What are the main benefits that self-driving vehicles will deliver?
The long-term benefits of automated transport systems are expected to be significant. Increased safety is one of the main factors, since human error is estimated to be responsible for more than 90% of today’s road accidents. Fully automated systems are also predicted to radically reduce the number of cars on the roads and produce cars that drive much more efficiently, leading to benefits for the environment as well as freeing up space currently used for parking. Once cars are able to drive without any human intervention at all, there will also be significant time savings as people are freed up from their hours currently spent at the wheel. Fully automated vehicles would also be accessible by people who cannot currently drive, for example due to age or disability.
How will self-driving vehicles benefit disabled people?
Once we get to the stage where vehicles are fully automated (without the need for any human driver), the benefits for disabled users should be massive. Those who cannot currently drive at all (including the blind and visually impaired) will be able to go wherever they want without having to rely on existing forms of public transport, taxis or lifts from friends and family, while those who currently rely on adapted vehicles will, in future, be able to use the same automated cars as everybody else. As well as disabled people, self-driving cars could be used by the elderly and anyone else who is currently unable or unwilling to drive.
The pavement-based pod vehicles being used for UK Autodrive are being designed to allow wheelchair access, and will also include features to assist people with visual impairments.
What effect will automated cars have on congestion and the environment?
The effect on congestion will depend a great deal on the speed at which fully automated vehicles enter the mainstream and the business models that accompany them. If people continue to want their own individual vehicle, the impact of self-driving vehicles will not be as dramatic as the scenario in which people can call up automated transport as and when they need it. UK Autodrive will carry out research to further investigate the possible effects on congestion, but one study carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, using transport data provided by Singapore, suggested that the Southeast Asian state could reduce the number of cars on its streets by a third by adopting automated vehicle technology. A 2015 OECD report based on car usage in Lisbon suggested that a city-wide self-driving taxi service combined with high capacity public transport could reduce the number of cars on the roads by anything up to 90%. As well as leading to a reduction in the total number of cars, automated vehicles are expected to drive more efficiently and are also increasingly likely to be fitted with electric motors (due to their ability to dock and recharge themselves in between pick-ups), all of which should combine to lessen the amount of harmful emissions released into the environment.
Will I be able to use a driverless car to get home if I have been out drinking?
For the foreseeable future, “driverless” cars will still require the presence of a human passenger who is capable of taking back control of the vehicle if necessary. In the longer term, it is hoped that fully automated vehicles will be able to operate without any human assistance – potentially benefiting disabled users, those who are too young or too old to drive, and also those who find themselves over the drink-driving limit…