According to the Government, the UK will be leading the way in the emergence of driverless car technology.

In fact, plans are already in place to use the UK as a central testing location and the Government is intent on attracting the largest global businesses to come to the UK to develop and test their technologies.

What’s it all about?

When considering that the average driver spends the equivalent of six working weeks a year behind the wheel, driverless technology represents a real opportunity to use this time in ways not previously thought possible. In addition, vehicles which never become tired or distracted could be influential in improving road safety.

It has even been suggested that existing laws and regulations be amended and where necessary new legislation be introduced to accommodate driverless cars becoming commonplace.

What does this mean?

Well, in order to allow a driver to discharge from the task of driving, the current legal and regulatory framework would have to be amended. Those areas which are likely to see the biggest changes are:

  • Liability – there needs to be greater certainty aroundcriminal and civil liability in the event of an automatedvehicle being involved in a collision
  • Vehicle regulation – there would have to be changes tothe MOT test to check roadworthiness. It has even beensuggested that the Highway Code be revised to include asection on automated vehicle technologies
  • Safety – the Government will consider whether a higherstandard of driving should be demanded of vehiclesoperating in an automated mode, than would beexpected of a conventional driver

What impact is this likely to have?

In the short term at least, if driverless technology were to be spearheaded here in the UK, it would likely result in the creation of a large number of jobs over the coming years.

In the longer term, if shared access to driverless cars were to be embraced by UK society, the advantages could be enormous. Taking Singapore as an example, a recent study estimated that a fleet of 300,000 autonomous shared vehicles could serve the entire population of Singapore (almost six million people) with a maximum 15 minute waiting time during peak hours. Today 800,000 private cars are owned by less than 12% of the city state’s population.

Of course adding driverless cars to our current, private vehicle based economy, may be counterproductive and only serve as an additional burden to our already congested, inefficient and environmentally damaging use of single occupancy transport.

Before the success of driverless vehicle technology can be measured however, there will be a number of legal and legislative questions to be answered.