In the Queen’s speech on 21 June, the government set out a framework for electric and driverless cars. This included plans to update motor insurance subjecting driverless vehicles to the same rules as normal ones.
Many cars already have some semi-autonomous features, such as self-parking and cruise control. Numerous projects around the world have been taking place to move this semi-autonomy one step further, notably Google cars in California which average 5,000 miles between human drivers needing to intervene.
UK government research suggests the market for driverless cars in the UK will be worth £28 billion by 2035 and they have committed £100 million of public money to support tests.
One such test involves a consortium called Driven who have received an £8.6 million government grant and plan to try out a fleet of driverless vehicles between London and Oxford during 2019.
An insurance company is involved in the project and will assess the risks involved at every stage of the journey.
The motor industry recognises that there are still a number of challenges to be overcome before cars and trucks become fully driverless.
Manufacturers are still working out how to make sure severe weather conditions don’t interfere with sensors, for example. And road layouts such as crossroads, where everyone arrives at the same time, mean human interaction to navigate the junction safely is still necessary. The same human interaction is needed where emergency vehicles require a clear passage through traffic.
Indeed, there have been a number of high profile accidents involving semi-autonomous vehicles, often due to human error, such as jumping a red traffic light.
To date, no international safety standards have been set for driverless vehicles and it is down to each country to create their own. However, there seems to be general agreement that people will still need driving licences as they will need to be able to take control at short notice should the need arise. This also means the same drink, drive rules will apply. And seat belts will still be required – while driverless cars should reduce the number of accidents on the road caused by human error, no technology is infallible.