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IMechE champions autonomous and driverless vehicles

11 February 2016

A new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers is calling for urgent government and industry action to encourage the greater use of autonomous and driverless vehicles.

“We need to urgently resolve legislative, technological and insurance issues to help encourage the rollout of autonomous or driverless vehicles," says Philippa Oldham, Head of Transport at the Institution of the Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and lead author of the report. “The benefits to this sort of technology are huge, with estimates that the overall UK economic benefit could be as much as £51 billion a year due to fewer accidents, improved productivity and increased trade.

“Currently 95% of all crashes happen due to driver error, so it makes sense for Government, industry and academia to redouble efforts to look at how we phase out human involvement in driving vehicles.
“There needs to be much more action from Government to help integrate driverless vehicles into the current UK transport network.  This will include updates and standardisation to road signage and road markings to enable these driverless vehicles to operate in the safest way possible.

“There is also a role for the car dealerships and vehicle manufacturers as they will need to clarify how they will provide the greater level of after-sales care, technical updates and upgrades that will be required to ensure the safe introduction of these vehicles on our roads.

“Much more work needs to be done to clarify regulation and insurance issues, such as where liability lies in case of an accident.”

The Autonomous and Driverless cars report makes three key recommendations:
- The Transport Systems Catapult conduct a public consultation, bringing together a working group that includes industry, legislators, regulators and members of the general public. This group should look at how we can integrate and implement new regulatory regimes.
- All car dealerships and garages must work with vehicle manufacturers to ensure that they can provide adequate information, and give the required training, to any new purchaser of a vehicle.
- The Department for Transport needs to address the safety issues of mixed road use, looking at how autonomous vehicles can be integrated onto our road network with appropriate road signage and markings in place or updated.

Motorists, however, are not so happy with autonomous vehicles, with more than 70 percent ready to turn their backs on them, according to a new survey. A mere five per cent of motorists asked by the UK’s largest specialist insurance broker, Adrian Flux, said they would embrace the new technology, with 24 percent undecided.

Google has sunk millions of dollars into developing autonomous vehicles that have so far travelled more than 1.7 million miles with just eleven minor accidents - all the fault of other drivers.

But despite the clear implications for road safety, 70.3 percent of 1,784 customers surveyed by Flux gave a red light to giving control of their driving to a computer. Of those, more than 45 percent don’t like the idea of not being in control, while nearly 36 percent said they simply enjoy driving too much to hand over the reins.

Nearly five percent worry about the implications of hacking, 4.4 percent fear they will be too expensive, and 2.9 percent don’t believe driverless cars will ever catch on.

Gerry Bucke, general manager at Flux, said the survey showed that the biggest obstacle to the uptake of driverless cars is peoples' love of driving, fear of the unknown and reluctance to give yet more of their lives over to computers.

“There appears little doubt that driverless cars will become a reality in one form or another, but motorists are clearly struggling with the idea of giving up the freedom of the open road and simple pleasure of driving great cars,” he saysd.

“Many people have a real passion for cars and driving, and if vehicles are all essentially the same, moving around the country at fixed speeds with no input from the driver, one of life’s pleasures will be taken away. The biggest stumbling block to this new technology, however good it may be, could well be that people simply don’t want it.”

Read the full report here.

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