Fleet News

Drivers unconvinced as governments and car firms push autonomous technology

Less than a quarter of company car drivers would feel comfortable in a self-driving vehicle, research suggests.

However, momentum behind the technology is growing, with Government and manufacturers investing millions of pounds.

Chancellor George Osborne announced in the Autumn Statement that the Government would review the regulation and legislation that applies to the testing of driverless cars and create a prize fund of £10 million for a town or city to develop as a testing ground.

Milton Keynes is experimenting with driverless pods and aims to have 100 autonomous vehicles running on the town’s pathways by mid-2017.

In the US, California, Nevada and Florida have passed legislation to allow driverless cars, while Google’s self-drive car recently completed 500,000 miles of road tests.

Manufacturers are also developing the technology. Nissan recently carried out the first public road test of an autonomous vehicle on a Japanese highway and Volvo has announced the world’s first large-scale autonomous driving pilot project.

It will involve 100 self-driving Volvo cars using public roads in everyday driving conditions around the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

The project is a joint initiative between Volvo Car Group, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg.

The project will start this year and the first cars are expected to be on the roads of Gothenburg by 2017.

However, a survey of 1,000 company car drivers conducted by ALD Automotive suggests UK motorists are far from convinced.

David Yates, marketing director at ALD, said: “The latest findings from our Pulse survey show there is still a long way to go to change perceptions of self-driving vehicles.

“For employers and employees alike, a world where drivers could work on their way to meetings, while being driven by a computer chauffeur, sounds like an exciting solution, increasing productivity and reducing stress.

“However, for most, it still sounds like science fiction and raises all sorts of questions over safety and risk.”

Tests by vehicle manufacturers and technology firms show that, in theory, autonomous vehicles should reduce an employee’s risk by incorporating advanced technology to avoid accidents.

“If this is the case, then autonomous vehicles should be safer, less stressful for drivers and free up more of their time to work while on the move,” said Yates.

Google, for example, claims its test cars have so far been involved in only two accidents – one involved the car being rear-ended after stopping at a red light and the other occurred after a human driver took control of the vehicle.

Manufacturers including Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Nissan and BMW expect to sell autonomous cars by 2020 and experts from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers estimate that up to 75% of all vehicles will be autonomous by 2040.

“However, as the results of our survey suggest, the majority of drivers are still far from convinced,” said Yates.

“Safety is an obvious issue, but there are many other questions. An obvious one would be who was responsible for any accident that occurred?”

There are plans for such vehicles to have dashboard displays which could tackle the ‘lack of control’ issue by enabling passengers to override any system controls.

However, this would put the focus back on the driver to be in control of their transportation at all times and end any thought of the vehicle becoming a mobile office.

Yates said: “There are many issues that will need to be thought through thoroughly to find a solution that will address all the safety, privacy and security concerns drivers will have.

“While the sector has the potential to generate a large number of highly skilled jobs for the UK, as well as cut road congestion and pollution, all these concerns will need to be addressed first.”


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  • Marina Bolton - 14/01/2014 11:58

    lot to be sorted yet but what happens to drink driving? If you are not "in control" of the vehicle does that mean you can go home in your car after a night in the pub? Does this spell the end of taxi drivers?

  • Rick - 14/01/2014 13:47

    The photo on this feature is misleading. Just because we are talking about autonomous technology the control of the vehicle will still need to be with the driver just like autopilot does not absolve the responsibility of any pilot therefore, using the phone while in control of the car as shown would be illegal as it is now. Mind you no one ever enforces the law as it stands now. Beware though this technology is coming, we are already developing systems that mean that car comfort and other systems will be held in the cloud and will be managed by a simple iphone that you connect to the car. No need for Sat Navs, heater controls engine mapping or stereo systems in future and will likely arrive before driverless cars do.

  • Edward Handley - 14/01/2014 15:13

    The concept has been proved to work but there are going to be a lot of issues. The Google cars for example have performed well but apparently struggle with road works and bad weather - so who wants a car that parks up at the side of the road when it snows? There are also huge social issues: Can a driver banned for drink drive use a self driving car? Well, why not - he's not actually driving so its no different from having a chauffeur. In that case, why bother with driving licences at all? The driver training industry will love that one! What about taking the children to school? Well, no need is there - stuff the five year old in the car and it can take itself to the school and maybe even park up reading to bring the child back at the end of the day. Interesting to think how much money the local authority and social services could save on taxis..... In a sense the driverless or automonous car is the wrong place to start. The driverless truck and bus make much more sense as they are much more expensive vehicles so the cost of the technology is proportionately lower, easier to fit into the vehicle plus getting rid of the driver and all that stuff designed to make the can a nice wrking environemt may reduce weight and improve payload. Operators will love to think that there are stroppy drivers to upset their customers or to go sick, no driver training costs, no working time directive or drivers hours so they can really sweat the assets and run them 24 hours a day. But they might be less keen when VOSA find a defect and there is no driver to blame it on. There are also some very interesting issues ranging from structural unemployment to the personal safety of lone female passengers when there is no driver on the bus. Autonomous vehicles could bring huge benefits but they could also bring big problems. Ned Ludd 2017?

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