Traffic technology experts doubt driverless timescales

February 05 2018

A survey of intelligent transport system professionals in the UK suggests they do not think that fully driverless cars will be on our roads by 2021, as suggested by the Chancellor Phillip Hammond in the autumn budget.

Only one member of ITS (UK) who answered the survey thought that this timescale was realistic, while the rest were largely split 50/50 between those who expect “level five” driverless cars, which operate completely independent of humans, to be available within 15 years, and the other half think it will take more than 15 years to become widespread.

The members raised concerns about the public’s willingness to “let go” of driving their cars, and that while the vehicles themselves may be ready, the road network will not be able to support them and that it will be a “long and rocky road”. Others believe that regulations surrounding insurance and liability will hamper the implementation. However there was more belief that some vehicles could be able to drive in certain circumstances, such as on dedicated roads or motorway lanes, much sooner. It was widely agreed that the technology has many benefits but that there was a danger of overpromising and underdelivering in the short term.

There is also concern that the publicity for driverless cars is harming the implementation of technologies which could be used to improve safety now. Half of the respondents thought that the driverless vehicle publicity was hampering public awareness of existing automatic driver assistance systems such as automatic braking and lane departure warnings which are available but generally only on certain higher level vehicles. One member commented that there is far too much focus and investment in driverless cars and not enough in solving today’s real-world problems. It was suggested that the right solution would be to focus on the stepping stones to autonomy that deliver benefits now. Only a quarter of members said they thought this was not an issue.

Chair of ITS (UK)’s Connected Vehicle Interest Group, Andy Graham of White Willow Consulting, said, “It’s clear that when we’re talking about Connected and Automated Vehicles it should be Connected, then a very big pause, and Automated, because that is what it will be like.”

“Our survey suggests that even among those who work on transport technology day in day out there are clear differences of opinion on timescales and benefits of autonomous vehicles,” said ITS (UK) Secretary General Jennie Martin. “However understanding that there may be a problem is the first step to solving it, and we are ideally placed to bring our combined thousands of years of knowledge and experience to help shape the future of our transport system to ensure that it is safe, efficient and fit for purpose”.

One thing that respondents largely agreed on was that there is a clear need for the travelling public to understand more about the way technology helps them get around more easily. ITS (UK) is therefore committed to sharing its knowledge beyond its members to the British people as a whole.

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