We need to talk – driverless cars consultation just a start

Blog post posted on 06/10/16 |

I recently signed off IAM RoadSmart’s response to the government’s Pathway to driverless cars consultation. The topic was discussed amongst our experts and we also ran a web poll among our members to gauge their opinions on the debate. The interest was high with almost 1200 responses. You can read about the main findings in our press release here.

The strongest findings were in relation to what happens insurance wise if a driverless car gets hacked and in proposed changes to Highway Code stalwarts such as the ‘two second rule’..

After reading the consultation from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous vehicles (CCAV), the most striking takeaway message for me was how limited the questions were. In the defence of CCAV the discussion was specifically about encouraging pilots and trials on UK roads, but I feel we really need  an in-depth conversation with key influencers, technology companies and car manufacturers about the long-term impact of driverless cars.  The impact it will have on road safety, driver training, mature drivers and the economy. Our livelihoods and work could be changed fundamentally by technology but many feel unheard as their opinions have never really been sought so far.

The results from our poll revealed a high degree of scepticism about driverless cars. Although many drivers are excited by the prospect of specific enhancements, such as protection against tailgating, turning those healthy sceptics into driverless car evangelists will take time and the sooner they are involved the better. The implications of driverless cars need to move out from the realms of academia and the engineering laboratory into mainstream, everyday thinking.

confusing traffic 2-road (1) driveless carsd 3

One of the key issues for IAM RoadSmart is how we manage the transition from semi-autonomous to fully autonomous cars. Today we have the technology to allow drivers to pass most of the functions of driving of a car over to the machine with only minimal input. However, how soon can the driver’s brain re-engage with the driving task if the car suddenly can’t cope and hands back control? 

Also of vital importance to us as a training body is the impact this will have on future advanced driving techniques. Add in the recently reported moral dilemmas about autonomous cars being programmed to protect occupants rather than those outside the car. It all seems a long way off. We need to at least start talking about it and giving the public the opportunity to give their views.

IAM RoadSmart wants to work with car designers and software engineers to embed our knowledge and expertise in their thinking.  Millions of pounds are being spent trying to design camera and radar systems that replicate what a human being can do in seconds.  Interpreting and implementing that data to the same standard as an advanced driver may ultimately make us redundant but will certainly deliver the safest possible car of the future.

IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, Neil Greig