The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is urging the Government to prioritise research into the social, behavioural and ethical questions relating to autonomous cars that still “largely remain unanswered”.
The Committee’s ‘Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The future?’ report suggests autonomous vehicles have the potential to lower the number of road fatalities, but it says that “the eradication of human error will only be realised with full automation which could take decades”.
Furthermore, the report noted that autonomous cars could have negative implications for drivers’ competence, making drivers complacent and overly reliant on technology.
It continued: “This is of particular concern in emergency situations, where a driver may react slowly to taking back control of a vehicle.
“The Government should give priority to commissioning and encouraging research studying behavioural questions and ensure it is an integral part of any trials it funds.”
Chairman of the committee The Earl of Selborne said: “Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) is a fast-moving area of technology and the Government has much to do, alongside industry and other partners, to position the UK so that it can take full advantage of the opportunities that CAV offers in different sectors.”
Selborne wants the Government to broaden its focus to make sure it is not so heavily focused on road vehicles. He said: “Early benefits of automation are likely to come in sectors such as marine and agriculture therefore the Government must not allow media attention around driverless cars to cause it to lose sight of the many potential benefits that CAV can provide in areas outside the roads sector.”
The report recommends that mobile coverage on UK roads will need to be improved in order to take full advantage of the possibilities of connected vehicles. This would mean widely available 4G and next-generation 5G signal for cars and the road network’s connected infrastructure to use.
Public trials will play a leading role in feeding back research to the Government to inform future legislation.
UK Autodrive, the largest of three publicly funded trials in the UK, will be taking the lead with testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. The project is running alongside others in Bristol and Greenwich, south London.
There are five accepted technology levels which distinguish between differing levels of capability for autonomous vehicles. A level 4 vehicle can do the complete driving task but only under certain boundary conditions. A level 5 vehicle is a vehicle that does all the driving all the time, and is capable of doing any driving that a human driver is capable of.
Evidence given to the committee suggests level 4 vehicles are not expected to be widely available on UK roads for at least another five years, while Level 5 vehicles will be 2030 at the earliest.
Jaguar, Land Rover and Ford are part of UK Autodrive’s 16-member consortium and each will have autonomous saloons on the road at the start of next year.
The tests will take place on public roads around Milton Keynes and near Coventry on the M1. The trial will use 12 cars travelling across the same routes to gather data.
The vehicles will demonstrate their level 4 capabilities, with a professional test driver ready to take over should anything happen.
TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) also gave written evidence as part of the report and addressed the potential negative impact autonomous vehicles could have on the UK employment market. It said the role of delivery taxi, lorry and public transport drivers could be those that may be redundant, but said the transition would not happen overnight.
TRL’s written evidence said: “It is often the case that emerging technologies change the employment market.
“While a new system may make workers redundant, it also creates opportunities in new areas. This can be expected with the growth of automated vehicles and their potential to replace driving jobs across the transport sector.
It said businesses employing drivers will have time to “adjust, retrain and redeploy employees where possible”.