In 2015, the company Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), in collaboration
with the University of Oxford, tested their Lutz Pathfinder car on the
roads of Milton Keynes, the first time an autonomous vehicle was
permitted by the UK government to travel on public highways. Further
tests involving higher speeds and longer distances have taken place
since, and UK Chancellor Philip has stated that driverless cars could be
in commercial use on Britain’s roads by 2021. As a business owner or
manager, what are some of the benefits and challenges that you need to
consider, as it becomes more and more plausible that we accept
autonomous vehicles as the norm?
It is estimated that up to 94 percent of road accidents are
due to human error or malpractice. Eliminating crashes caused by drink
driving, tiredness, distraction and speeding could save thousands of
lives a year. There have been a handful of incidents involving
autonomous vehicles, such as a shuttle-bus crash in Las Vegas in 2015,
but as collision detection technology improves, our streets should
become drastically safer in the coming years.
Fewer accidents mean less congestion but, there are also other ways in which
the widespread adoption of self-driving cars could reduce traffic jams
and bottlenecks across the UK. Compared to human drivers, autonomous
vehicles can travel closer together, as well as needing to accelerate
and brake less often, contributing to a more even, steady flow of
traffic, particularly on motorways.
In September, the government launched a “coordination hub”, for testing driverless
vehicles, based in Coventry and Stratford. Under the government’s
Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) program, £100 million pounds is
to be invested in schemes like this, to ensure that the UK doesn’t get
left behind in a global market that could be worth £907 billion pounds
by 2035. The new technology could give the manufacture and testing of
driverless cars, and secondary industries such as on-demand taxis and
road freight a significant boost. Ride-sharing may well become the norm,
with the majority of road-users renting transport with services like
Uber, rather than purchasing a vehicle themselves.
As with any significant technological development, the widespread
adoption of self-driving vehicles will bring challenges that, if not
kept in check, could cause social disruption. Around a million people
drive for a living in the UK, and if not adequately retrained, may end
up facing long-term unemployment. The hope is that as autonomous vehicle
technology makes new industries viable, the overall number of job
opportunities will increase. We can expect a degree of apprehension from
the general public, but overall trust in self-driving cars should grow
over time, as they become a part of everyday life. Unstaffed rail
services such as London’s DLR have been with us for over 30 years, and
are now taken for granted.
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