Self-driving cars are coming but Britain isn’t ready for them, say MPs
By Jonathan Walker
Newcastle University academic Professor Eric Sampson tells MPs that automated cars could cut or end deaths on the roads
Driverless vehicles which could dramatically cut deaths on the roads are coming to Britain – but the Government must do far more to ensure the UK is a world leader in adopting the technology, according to MPs.
The findings were published after a Newcastle academic told MPs that driverless cars could even potentially cut the number of road fatalities down to nothing.
But Professor Eric Sampson, visiting professor at Newcastle University, told the inquiry that the Government would have to pass legislation making the new technology compulsory.
Giving evidence at Westminster, he said: “To get zero fatalities, if you can ever get there, you have to mandate the fitment. You cannot have vehicles travelling around that are not fitted with the latest technology.”
Cars which drive themselves might sound like science fiction but manufacturers say they could have vehicles available within five years.
Nissan, which has a major plant in Washington, Tyne and Wear, says it will introduce vehicles with affordable autonomous drive systems by 2020.
The firm is planning to introduce technology which automates specific tasks, such as driving in heavy traffic or traffic jams; maintaining a steady speed and changing lanes in motorways, and parking.
A spokeswoman said: “The first of these systems will be in the market from 2016 with a successive roll-out towards 2020 when full autonomous drive systems will be available.”
But in a new report, the Commons Transport Committee said the UK needed a “visionary strategy” to make the most of new motoring technology.
Laws and regulations governing car insurance needed to be reformed to make it clear how the introduction of self-driving cars will affect the liabilities of drivers, manufacturers and insurers, the MPs said.
Britain must also work with the EU to develop common standards which will help UK manufacturers develop products suitable for export.
Committee chair Louise Ellman MP said: “The public need to be sure that new types of vehicles are safe to travel on our roads.
The Government must do more to prepare for a transition period where manual, semi-autonomous and driverless vehicles will share UK roads.
“Transport Ministers must explain how different types of vehicles will be certified and tested, how drivers will be trained and how driving standards will be updated, monitored and enforced.”
The inquiry heard evidence from a range of experts before publishing its findings. As well as Professor Sampson these included Professor Phil Blythe, Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems at Newcastle University.
He told the committee that self-driving cars were probably inevitable.
Giving evidence to the inquiry, Prof Blythe said: “I see a real role for moving towards autonomous vehicles, for all sorts of reasons.
“In urban areas, you can manage and optimise traffic if you have some control over speed, lane or whatever at certain times.
“As people get older, they have functional and cognitive declines. Assistive technologies in cars to help them when they cannot judge distances or speeds are important.”
He added: “I see a lot of reasons why automation in vehicles will come. Virtually all you need for fully autonomous vehicles is there now in different vehicles; it just has not all been brought together.
“It has real safety benefits and will allow platoons of freight, which may increase capacity on the roads.”
News courtesy: Chronicle Live
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