Driverless cars will help reduce the number of casualties on the roads, making speeding a thing of the past and enabling limiting of vehicle performance according to the driver’s experience.
Speaking ahead of the launch of autonomous vehicle trials on public roads in the UK, British engineers have expressed confidence that the technology could be up and running within the next 15 years and could provide tangible benefits to the UK transport.
"Within 15 years, we predict that the performance of cars could be altered to fit the driver,” said the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). “A learner or teenager who has recently passed their test may have their speed limited automatically. However, a more experienced driver getting in the same car would be able to travel much faster."
The IET said that compared to human drivers the computerised cars will make considerably fewer mistakes, potentially saving hundreds of lives a year. According to the Institution, a driverless car will commit only one error in handling the car for every 10,000 made by human drivers.
"Automated cars could also travel in platoons, which would be linked up to traffic light systems to keep them moving and avoid congestion,” said the IET. “There is likely to be growth in car clubs, with few people owning their own vehicles. Taxis are likely to become redundant. Speeding may become a thing of the past as cars are likely to be fitted with speed-limiting devices."
The £19m trials of driverless cars, to be launched in January, will see self-driving cars – albeit with a qualified driver in the driver's seat – take to public roads in Greenwich in south London, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry.
The trials, to last between 18 and 36 months, are the first to test driverless vehicles in regular traffic and not in segregated areas as done previously.
The towns in which the trials are taking place were chosen by government-funded body Innovate UK.
"Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine,” said Nick Jones, lead technologist at Innovate UK.
"There are so many new and exciting technologies that can come together to make driverless cars a reality, but it's vital that trials are carried out safely, that the public have confidence in that technology and we learn everything we can through the trials so that legal, regulation and protection issues don't get in the way in the future."
Each of the four test centres will look at different aspects of autonomous vehicles. The Bristol project, for example, will investigate the legal and insurance aspects and explore how the public react to such vehicles.