Spend driverless car research millions on better roads instead, UK drivers say
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Most motorists would prefer the tens of millions being spent by the UK government on autonomous vehicle schemes to be diverted towards boosting the country's infrastructure, or given to the health service or schools.
Britain’s motorists doubt driverless cars will be commonplace within the next two decades, and many would prefer the government to focus resources on making roads better rather than speeding ahead with autonomous vehicle schemes, research shows.
Whitehall is pumping tens of millions of pounds of public money into projects aimed at making the UK a world leader in driverless automobiles, even though the country’s roads are often derided for being relatively poorly maintained, riddled with potholes and often jammed with traffic.
Now automotive service company the RAC has said motorists remain stubbornly sceptical about predictions that self-driving cars will be being rolled out onto a highway near them any time soon.
Research conducted with nearly 2,200 members of the RAC Opinion Panel found only five per cent thought the government should prioritise financial support for the development of driverless vehicle technology in the current economic climate.
A further 17 per cent supported investment in this area but did not regard it as an immediate priority.
More than a quarter of respondents felt the money would be better spent on the NHS or education.
In total, 39 per cent of people surveyed said they would prefer to see the funds redirected to improving existing road infrastructure, with the same proportion describing as “a bit pie in the sky” the idea that there will be one million driverless vehicles on the UK’s roads by 2037.
In March the government announced plans for the first phase of a £100 million investment in testing infrastructure to develop the technology. A “cluster of excellence” will be created along the M40 corridor, using existing testing centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford, Milton Keynes and London.
The most common concern about the technology is the reliability of the software, followed by the loss of personal control of vehicles and cyberattacks.
RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “Very understandably motorists have a range of questions and concerns about driverless cars.
“There is clearly some widespread scepticism about the technology becoming prevalent and some concerns over reliability which are no doubt based on motorists' everyday experiences of computers and the lack of resilience of the software they use.
“Finding out that around half of motorists would rather see the money the government has allocated to encourage the development of driverless cars used to improve the condition of the roads they drive on is perhaps not a great surprise.”
The research follows warnings that driverless cars could increase congestion in cities by drawing people off public transport like trains, which have a far greater total capacity than road-based vehicles.
Robbert Lohmann and Sjoerd van der Zwaan from Dutch company 2GetThere, which designs rapid transit systems, said in a report that the benefits of driverless vehicles had been exaggerated and that such vehicles would only achieve a reduction in car movements, if at all, if they were shared rather than privately owned.
Lohmann said: “Replacing traditional cars on a one-to-one basis with autonomous cars will not solve the problem of congestion. A combination is needed with shared use, or preferably, public transport.”
He also warned there could in future be four rush hours a day rather than two as cars brought commuters from their homes to their workplaces and then left to park themselves outside of the city, before doing the same journey again in reverse at the end of the day.
A £6.1 billion programme of road improvements was unveiled earlier this week by transport minister Jesse Norman as part of the government's £23 billion upgrade to the road network in England.
Fifty-five schemes will be developed over the next six months to cut journey times, tackle congestion and increase capacity.