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The government believes that self-driving vehicles, which were mentioned in the King’s Speech on November 7th, are the future of transportation. They stated that these vehicles will not only benefit the driver, but also improve safety, convenience, and accessibility for millions of people.
The statement continued, saying, “As human error is responsible for 88% of accidents at present, the use of automated vehicles has the potential to greatly decrease costs, injuries, and fatalities. This technology will make transportation more convenient for people all over the country, allowing them to easily commute to school or work and in turn, increasing productivity.”
The King’s Speech of 2023 pledged to implement new laws that would facilitate the secure growth of emerging industries, including self-driving vehicles.
However, there are worries surrounding the implementation of self-driving cars on British roads. This emerging technology brings about various potential hazards, such as drivers experiencing a decline in their driving abilities and the possibility of cyber-attacks resulting in widespread casualties. Here is all the information you should be aware of.
What exactly is a self-driving car?
A self-driving vehicle is one that does not require human control for the majority of its journey. The term “autonomous vehicle” is often used interchangeably, though it implies a higher level of automation.
There are varying levels of independence in vehicles, ranging from minimal driver assistance (such as cruise control, which has existed for many years) to complete self-driving capabilities where human involvement is not necessary or permitted.
The Society of Automotive Engineers offers various levels for categorizing the level of self-driving capabilities.
- 0 No Driving Automation
- 1 Driver Assistance
- 2 Partial Driving Automation
- 3 Conditional Driving Automation
- 4 High Driving Automation
- 5 Full Driving Automation
Currently, autonomous cars in the UK are mostly restricted to a bus service on the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland and the Heathrow Pod, a dedicated track connecting Terminal 5 to a car park.
The self-driving bus currently operating on the Firth of Forth is categorized as Level 3. The Heathrow Pod is considered a type of Level 5, but it only operates on a designated track without any other cars or people.
The score for cruise control would be 1.
In April of 2023, the government granted Ford approval to utilize its BlueCruise self-driving system on 2,300 miles of UK motorway. However, this technology is currently exclusive to the 2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E, an electric car priced at a minimum of £50,000. This falls under Level 2 in terms of self-driving capabilities, which is also the same level as other technologies such as Honda Sensing and Toyota Safety Sense.
Soon, Mercedes-Benz is anticipated to launch the initial Level 3 vehicles for drivers in California and Nevada.
What is the reason for our desire for them?
Ministers believe that the implementation of “Connected and Automated Mobility” technology, which utilizes self-driving vehicles, will result in:
Roads that are safer and have less traffic.
Improving transportation connections in rural areas to promote equal access to transportation in historically isolated regions.
Enhanced transportation options for individuals with limited mobility: those who are experiencing decreased independent mobility as they get older and those who have never had the opportunity for independent mobility.
More affordable and dependable public transportation.
What is the mechanism behind self-driving cars?
Companies creating autonomous vehicles utilize various technologies, whether it be modifications to an existing vehicle or the development of a completely new one, to eliminate the need for a human driver.
The regular manual controls for acceleration, braking, and turning are managed by a central processor which utilizes one or more of these technologies:
Lidar technology uses laser beams emitted from devices positioned around a vehicle, which bounce back to sensors and provide a comprehensive view of the surrounding environment. In some cases, video cameras may also be used to detect road markings and signs.
Radar is a technology from the early 20th century that is similar to Lidar. It is skilled at determining the velocity of objects, such as other vehicles.
Similar to how a satellite navigation system relies on determining the user’s location on an existing map, self-driving cars will also require a fundamental structure in which to function.
- Communication: required for linking with infrastructure (vehicle-to-infrastructure or “V2I”) to ensure that the vehicle is operating both safely and in a manner that makes the most of limited resources, ie the road network. There is also the potential of vehicle-to-vehicle (“V2V”) communication.
The speed and direction of the vehicle are constantly evaluated in relation to its surroundings and other users in order for the vehicle to make proper decisions.
Are they safe?
According to the government, even with minimal automation, these technologies have the potential to decrease car accidents. With more advanced levels of automation, they could greatly enhance road safety by reducing human error.
According to the Institute for Engineering and Technology, for every 10,000 errors made by human drivers, a self-driving vehicle will only make one error.
Eliminating the possibility of human error can greatly enhance safety on British roads, as it is a contributing factor in 87.5% of all collisions.
The government has declared that self-driving cars should be required to adhere to the same level of conduct as human drivers, which is to be skilled and cautious. This standard is even stricter than that of the typical human driver, who may be fatigued, distracted, or impaired by alcohol or drugs.
The requirement for vehicles is that they are able to operate autonomously and adhere to all traffic laws without human intervention for the purpose of ensuring safety.
What potential issues could arise?
The Transport Select Committee is concerned about the potential consequences of a major cyber-terrorist attack on multiple self-driving vehicles, which could result in significant loss of life.
Ashley Feldman, a program and policy manager for the Transport and Smart Cities division of Tech UK, a trade organization, presented the committee with a list of “significant” dangers. She warned that a malicious individual could potentially gain control of essential functions such as steering, braking, acceleration, and airbag operation.
Minister for Decarbonisation and Technology, Jesse Norman, informed Members of Parliament that it appears likely that cyberattacks will occur and that some may be successful.
The Members of Parliament are expressing worry about the decline in driving abilities as people become accustomed to the convenience of self-driving cars. In certain situations, the driver may need to be ready to take control of the vehicle if it encounters unexpected conditions that it is not equipped to handle.
The report from the Transportation Select Committee states that increased automation will lead to less time spent driving. However, this may also result in drivers becoming less experienced and skilled. On the other hand, drivers will face greater demands as they will need to take over control of vehicles in difficult situations with little warning.
Is it possible for a self-driving car to stop functioning at any given time?
According to the Highway Code, a self-driving vehicle may have limitations in its ability to drive itself, depending on factors such as road type, time of day, weather, location, and speed.
“When a self-driving car is operating in a legitimate scenario, you are not liable for its driving. You can divert your focus from the road and even consume media through the car’s built-in infotainment system.”
While a car is in autonomous mode, the driver is not liable for its behavior – however, they may experience sudden return of control, as stated in the code.
“If the self-driving car requires the driver to take over, it will provide ample warning to do so in a safe manner. The driver must always be capable and prepared to resume control and should do so promptly when prompted by the vehicle. This includes remaining in the driver’s seat and staying alert. Once control has been regained or the self-driving feature has been turned off, the driver is fully responsible for all driving tasks.”
“The potential problem is that the driver may not be prepared to regain control and the responsibility is transferred back,” stated Professor Nick Reed of Reed Mobility during his testimony to the panel of Members of Parliament.
“I believe it would be necessary to monitor both the driver and the occupant of the driver’s seat to ensure they are prepared and capable of taking over if needed. Additionally, the vehicle must be equipped to handle the situation in case the driver is unable or not ready to do so.”
What is the legal requirement?
Currently, there is not a lot happening, but there are plans for an Automated Vehicles Bill. The government states: “Our laws need to be modernized in order to fully realize the potential benefits of self-driving technology. The Automated Vehicles Bill prioritizes safety and protection for users in our new system and ensures that the driver, whether it is a vehicle or a person, is responsible.”
Simply put, if the vehicle has legal control, the person inside is not liable for any accidents.
The Bill provides protection from legal action for individuals while a self-driving vehicle is in operation, as it would be illogical to hold the person sitting in the driver’s seat accountable.
“However, the individual will still be responsible for non-driving tasks, including maintaining appropriate insurance for the vehicle and ensuring proper loading.”
The company responsible for producing the self-driving car will have clearly defined duties.
The government has stated that companies must comply with safety standards when introducing a vehicle onto public roads. Failure to do so may result in new consequences and penalties, such as fines, corrective measures, and suspension of operation.
Serious cases will result in criminal charges being applied.
“Corporations have a responsibility to consistently ensure the safety of their vehicles and comply with British laws while driving.”
When will all of this be accessible on a nearby road?
The government’s belief is that by 2025, there will be an increase in the use of self-driving vehicles in the UK, resulting in improved transportation methods for both people and goods across the country.
“In 2035, it is projected that 40% of new cars in the UK may be equipped with self-driving technology.”
The realization of these forecasts will depend on substantial enhancements in 4G coverage and driver adoption. The MPs of the Transport Select Committee remain skeptical.
According to their report, there has been a lack of progress in this technology over the past ten years, which has caused skepticism among its supporters.
Ensuring safety should be the government’s primary concern as self-driving cars navigate complex real-world situations.
The government has stated that there will not be a drastic and abrupt transition, explaining that “we are just starting on this path, and human drivers will continue to coexist with self-driving vehicles for a significant amount of time.”
Do I have to retake a driving exam?
It is improbable that driving will remain the same, as it is certain to evolve. Becky Guy, road safety manager for England at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), informed members of Parliament on the committee that the driver’s role will shift from operating the vehicle to supervising a system. The main challenge will be keeping the driver engaged and informed about the vehicle’s actions.
The level of focus needed from the individual assumed to be responsible for the vehicle may differ.
According to Steve Gooding, the RAC Foundation’s chief executive, the various levels of driver engagement in self-driving cars can be described as “hands off, eyes off, nod off”.
According to the speaker, “hands off” indicates that the vehicle will operate autonomously but the driver must remain vigilant. “Eyes off” means the vehicle will handle all tasks independently. “Nod off” means the driver can fall asleep and the vehicle will transport them to their desired destination.