The leader of Britain’s car-insurance industry, James Dalton, has downplayed the introduction of self-driving cars saying that he “doesn’t think the term exists.”
Speaking at a conference in London organised by Volvo and the insurance industry’s Thatcham Research, Dalton, the boss of trade body ABI's car insurance division, questioned whether the vision of driverless cars by 2025 was realistic because so many complex problems are yet to be solved.
"I don’t like the term driverless car because I don’t think it exists. At least in the long-term a car is going to need a fit, alert and sober driver," he said.
Dalton believes the government will struggle to create a new regulatory framework capable of completely downplaying the role of a driver.
The DfT is currently consulting with the insurance and car industries on how to introduce driverless and cars, with a date of 2018 set to allow ‘autopilot control’ in which a driver will be able to take his/her hands off the steering wheel for just two minutes.
Experts at the conference suggest 2025 as the year when a car will be able to driver-itself door-to-door, without as yet specifying whether the driver will be able to cease any form of control.
One of the attractions for the insurance industry of autonomous cars is the possible enormous reduction of accidents, predicted by Peter Shaw, chief executive of Thatcham Research. He predicts that there will be 80% fewer crashes in 10 years time.
"Autonomous driving will be the biggest revolution in vehicle safety-ever. Full-stop," said Shaw.
To get this far, however, the legal framework and allocation of blame in an accident will have to be overhauled.
"In essence what we have in the current system – of negligence will have to evolve. How blame may be assigned will evolve," said Tim Marlow, head of autonomous vehicles at Ageas.
Volvo has already said that it will accept the blame in an accident involving one of its self-driving cars if the car is at fault, but how that will work in practice is still unclear.
Erik Coelingh, boss of Volvo’s autonomous driving department, said that its cars will record multiple channels of data, which can be used to allocate blame to either the driver or the car after an accident.
Speaking on the panel at the event, Autocar and What Car? editorial director Jim Holder quoted a What Car? reader survey that showed 69% of respondents found the idea of self-driving cars "unappealing".
"They - 51% - also say they would feel very unsafe behind the wheel of an autonomous car," Holder added.