The UK is being pitched as the best place to develop autonomous vehicles, but the Government is already trying to impose new rules and regulations
Matt Prior
14 August 2015

I didn’t know this: in England, the average driver spends 235 hours – six working weeks – behind the wheel every year.

The Department for Transport (DfT) told me this in a document called ‘The Pathway to Driverless Cars’, which says that driverless cars are coming and thatyou really ought to like it. 

They will make access to cars easier (nearly half of under-30s can’t drive), reduce congestion and accidents and improve air quality. 

For good measure, the DfT is trying to position the UK as the world’s best place to develop driverless cars. And why not? We have great researchers, changeable weather and challenging roads.

Crucially, the UK never ratified the Vienna Convention, which insists that “every moving vehicle or combination of vehicles shall have a driver” who “shall at all times be able to control his vehicle”. So while other countries revoke laws or issue special permits for driverless research, here engineers can just get on with it.

But what I like most about the DfT’s Pathway is that it treads softly. “The Government is developing a light-touch, non-regulatory approach to the testing and development of these technologies,” it says. The whole document reads like a virtuous, altruistic experiment.

Government wins if air quality and accident rates improve and manufacturers win if we buy their stuff. You and I? We win if people crash less, we use less fuel and commutes get easier, as long as driving for pleasure still exists. And there’s the worry.

And there’s why I’ve sighed at a Transport Committee of 11 MPs, who’ve read the Pathway and, in response, have made some recommendations, like telling the DfT to “prepare for a transitional period when manual, semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles are all running together on UK roads”.

As if it’s doing anything else. Everyone developing autonomous technologies is already preparing for that, but it isn’t a ‘transitional period’; it’s simply ‘the future’ for all of our lifetimes and beyond. 

Oh, here’s the committee again, reminding the DfT that “potential levers to nudge behaviour [towards adopting particular technologies] include type certification, road worthiness standards, mandating the fitting of particular technologies to new and existing vehicles by a specified date, scrappage schemes and fiscal incentives”.

Yes, that’s the Transport Committee already floating the idea of making mandatory technology that may not even exist yet, let alone work, and phasing out vehicles that don’t have it. Excuse me while I put my face in my hands and sob.

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Comments
4

14 August 2015
since I don't see driver-less cars in my future simply for the lack of driver appeal.

14 August 2015
I think it's soon going to be compulsory to cycle so there won't be any cars driverless or otherwise - except for MPs of course who will all have cars not built in the UK and their own lanes alongside all the cycle expressways.

15 August 2015
Oh for pity's sake - Matt, you cannot be serious. Have you honestly ever believed that when the Government are convinced driverless cars are ready there will be anything other than a transition period? And a short one at that. As soon as driverless cars begin to inhabit the roads in significant numbers, then for them to be what they are touted as by their proponents, cars with human drivers must be eradicated as swiftly as possible. How can driverless cars line up bumper to bumper on motorways when human-driven cars want to be able to change lanes to get to and from slip roads? How can they know before arriving at junctions what cars approaching from other directions are going to do if those cars are being driven by humans? Make no mistake, if driverless cars get a tyrehold on the our roads our days as drivers are done. And just imagine that motorway journey of the future. Your autocar (foreboding title now, isn't it) will slot into the line and for a couple of hundred miles you'll sit there surrounded by cars virtually touching yours on all sides, seeing the same brats pulling their tongues out at you on one side and the same louts showing you their arses on the other until you reach your exit. The only direction with a view will be upwards, if you were smart enough to specify a sunroof. Matt, instead of pretending that there could be a shared future for driverless and human-driven cars, you need to stop your sobbing and use the platform you have with Autocar to campaign against the development of driverless cars. Because the way things are going, driving for pleasure is done.

I don't need to put my name here, it's on the left

 

TBC

30 August 2015
Like a lot of things in life, the choice will be defined by what your insurance company will allow you to do (along with the threat of prosecution and a custodial sentence). As soon as there is enough evidence to show that owning and using an autonomous car is safer that a human-piloted one, then the insurance rates for owning, and driving a car, will sky-rocket, forcing all and sundry into autonomous cars. I see a bright future for track-day specials and off-road cars, the only places you'll be able to drive your car.

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