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Last updated: 14 September 2021
Previously thought to be the reserve of science-fiction writers, driverless cars are expected to be a big focus for tech companies over the next few years. Already there are several vehicles in pilot schemes and testing phases across America, and it will not be long before we have driverless cars in the UK too.
This guide will hopefully dispel some myths surrounding self-driving cars, point to where the technology is at currently and forecast it will be in the future. Currently, you cannot legally have a car on the road without a person being in full control, but this is likely to soon change and we think it's better to be prepared.
What is a driverless car?
Perhaps unsurpringly, a driverless car is a vehicle that can get from A to B on the road without anyone physically driving it. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) that responds to stimuli on the road (ie traffic lights, human and vehicle traffic, speed bumps etc) and acts accordingly. They are equipped with a GPS system and covered in cameras and sensors to make sure that they do not crash into anything or anyone.
Are they safe?
Despite the fact that 94% of car accidents are down to human error, driverless cars are nowhere near safe enough to be rolled out en masse on public roads. Currently when testing driverless cars there is still someone in the front seat as precaution. UK law states that someone must be in control of the car at all times, even if it is only semi-autonomous. However with the rising popularity of driverless technology, these laws may soon change.
Are they on the roads already?
Fully autonomous vehicles are by no means on the roads already in the UK, but American companies such as Google and Uber have been testing driverless vehicles on the roads for some years now. There are many cars on the market though that have semi-autonomous feaures, such as collision warning systems, autonomous braking and parking assistant features. Innovative technology companies like Tesla have been leading the charge here.
How will they be insured?
The government has already passed legislation surrounding autonomous car insurance, called the ‘Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018'. This essentially states that autonomous vehicles will have to be covered for accidents while the AI is driving, and if not then the car's owner will be liable for it.
The bill also states that the insurance will be void if the owner attempts to make any alterations to the software and/or does not install any of the ‘safety critical' updates.
Advantages of driverless cars
There are a few clear advantages to driverless cars, which explains why the technology is being pushed forward so heavily.
- Safety: The main reason why the government wants driverless technology to develop is a matter of safety. If we could remove the possibility of human error we could reduce the amount of road accidents by 90% in the UK, therefore making our roads far safer.
- Efficiency: Driverless cars would be able to communicate with each other, planning faster routes but also making sure that traffic does not build up.
- Time: By not having to focus on driving you would be free up to do something else whilst sat in the car. The average driver spends up to 6 weeks a year just driving - just think of all the films you could watch!
- Loneliness: Many elderly and disabled people are unable to leave their home regularly because they cannot drive. There is an argument for driverless cars being a great tool to combat lonliness in these communities, as it will give them a degree more independence to go out and see people or do their own shopping.