The government wants the UK to be at the forefront of this new technology. They believe that the proliferation of driverless cars will have significant benefits:

1) Increase in road safety – over 90% of accidents are caused by human error such as being distracted, carelessness or driving too fast.

2) Reduced insurance claims leading to lower insurance premiums.

3) Social inclusion for the elderly or disabled.

4) A reduction in emissions and fuel efficiency

5) A reduction in congestion

Initially the plans are for “highly automated” vehicles in which a driver would be expected to take control of the vehicle at any time. Drivers of these vehicles would still be subject to the Road Traffic Act and could be prosecuted for drink driving, driving without insurance or using a mobile phone etc.

The next stage however will be the introduction of “fully automated” vehicles, which will be truly driverless. It has been suggested that we spend on average 6 weeks a year driving. This time could be spent working, watching films or sleeping. Our laws will have to be changed to accommodate driverless vehicles and it will be interesting to see where criminal or civil liability will lie in the event of an accident or incident of bad driving.

Testing has been authorised in Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes and Greenwich and I expect that the fleet sector will be at the forefront, perhaps followed by the vehicle rental industry, buses and taxis.

Driverless cars are predicted to be a £900 billion industry by 2025 with several major vehicle manufacturers planning for mass production over the next 10 years. Indeed, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predict that 75% of all vehicles will be autonomous by 2040. This is not a glimpse of the distant future. Driving as we know it may soon seem as outdated as the horse drawn carriage. In the shorter term we will see driverless cars sharing the road with driven cars.

Fully automated cars will be programmed to avoid making wrong decisions but can we be confident that there will be no glitches in the system? We cannot get away from the fact that people will be involved in the design and maintenance of driverless cars. Can we really be sure that human error will be ruled out completely? The manufactures are employing artificial intelligence (AI) experts in the development of driverless cars. U.S. vehicle safety regulators have said the AI system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law.

Nothing to worry about then?

Stephen Hawkins has suggested that AI could spell the end of the human race and that it could take off on its own and re design at an ever increasing rate. He has warned that as we are limited by slow biological evolution, we couldn’t compete and would be superseded. Gridlock on the M6? I hear that a company called Skynet may be involved.

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