Driverless cars are making headlines, with the future of travel revealing itself to be grounded very much in the present.
It’s a thrilling time to be in the motor business as trials of new vehicles are gaining momentum. And while it will take time for the technology to be fully rolled out on our roads, completely autonomous (or “brain free”) cars could be a reality as soon as 2025.
But as recent accidents involving “driverless” vehicles show, there’s still a way to go. And for now at least, the relationship between car and driver remains a traditional one.
So what does it mean for a car to be truly driverless? Current technology enabling adaptive cruise control and parking assistance is only the start of the revolution as both need the driver to monitor the environment around them. The next big change will come in 2018, when “hands free” driver assistance vehicles will begin to appear on UK roads. But these vehicles will initially be restricted to “motorway assist” driving and remote parking. The driver must maintain concentration and responsibility at all times.
“Hands free” will eventually give way to “eyes free”, which is perhaps best described as the bridge stage of the journey. These will be semi-autonomous and will assume control and responsibility during motorway driving. This will be passed back to the driver when leaving the motorway.
To be truly driverless, the concept of even needing a person in charge disappears. These “brain free” cars will start appearing from 2025 but will take a long time to become the new norm as older cars will still be ruling the roads.
The government is adopting a step by step approach and has launched a consultation period offering the public the chance to have a say before the Modern Transport Bill is passed. Insurers and trade bodies have already been working closely with the Department for Transport to explore insurance solutions for this new world, and the Automated Driving Insurance Group has made great progress in examining liability issues, cyber safety and roadway legality.
The implications are many but the creation of these vehicles will be of huge benefit to everyone. A recent report commissioned by the Association of British Insurers found that 94 per cent of fatal injury accidents involve human error, and connected vehicles which can “talk” to each other and minimise the risk will dramatically reduce these accident rates.
Removing the potential for human error could lead to a significant reduction in the number of serious injuries on Britain’s roads. As a result, this could ease strain on the NHS and welfare spending, while creating associated environmental benefits. With fewer accidents and cars communicating effectively, there will be less congestion on motorways and better space allocation on other roads. The more efficient the journey, the lower the emissions.
With sharing economy businesses becoming increasingly common, it is also easy to see how consumer budgets will benefit from automated technology. Manufacturers and insurance policies will work flexibly, taking into account actual vehicle use, and maintenance will be handled in a completely different way. There may even come a time when you don’t need to own a vehicle – it’ll be a case of summoning one, enjoying the journey and then letting it depart to its next destination.
Eventually, long, boring journeys will also be a thing of the past as time once spent concentrating on the road could be put to more productive purposes or simply used for relaxing. Transport will become less stressful and as a result bring greater freedoms. This technology could even help those with mobility issues, removing the obstacles that currently restrict the driving experience.
The opportunities are almost endless and step by step we are moving towards this exciting, but most importantly life-saving, tomorrow.