A driverless car is a vehicle that can operate without a human driver. It is considered to be the future of transportation on the UK’s roads.
However, there are still debates as to whether this technology is viable or just a far-fetched idea. Furthermore, questions are raised on the functionality of this technology and how it will impact The Highway Code and car insurance policies. In this regard, let’s explore these topics in more detail.
- What is a driverless car?
- How do driverless cars work?
- Why do we need driverless cars?
- What are the levels of autonomous driving in driverless cars?
- What are the risks of driverless cars?
- When might we see driverless cars in the UK?
- What’s happening elsewhere?
- What rules apply to driverless cars?
- Are driverless cars safe?
- How will driverless car insurance work?
- How much will it cost to insure a driverless car?
What is a driverless car?
A driverless car is a revolutionary technology that can operate without the intervention of a human driver. A fully autonomous vehicle can navigate and travel from point A to point B without human intervention or input, including operating the steering wheel, accelerator, and brakes.
These cars are powered by advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, which enables them to process and respond to road conditions, traffic, and other environmental factors in real-time, similar to how a human driver would respond.
Although the concept of driverless cars may seem futuristic, significant progress has been made in this field, and various car manufacturers and tech companies have invested billions of dollars in developing and testing autonomous vehicles. Additionally, some cities have already started to implement these vehicles for public transport and ride-sharing services.
One of the significant benefits of driverless cars is the potential to make transportation more efficient and reduce the number of road accidents caused by human error. They could also help people who are unable to drive due to age or disabilities to maintain their independence and mobility.
Despite the potential benefits, there are still many challenges that need to be addressed, including legal and regulatory issues, infrastructure requirements, and the potential for cyber attacks. Additionally, there are concerns about job losses in the transportation sector due to the automation of driving.
Overall, the advent of driverless cars represents a significant shift in the automotive industry, and it will be interesting to see how this technology evolves and shapes the future of transportation.
How do driverless cars work?
The technology behind driverless cars is a complex system that enables them to operate autonomously. These vehicles utilise a combination of advanced sensors, cameras, and GPS technology to navigate roads and interact with their environment.
The GPS system installed in the vehicle is used to provide location information and to determine the route that the car will take. Meanwhile, the sensors and cameras work together to detect objects, hazards, and other road users such as pedestrians, animals, traffic lights, and road markings.
Based on this information, the car’s onboard computer system can automatically make decisions and take appropriate actions, such as braking, accelerating, or steering, to react to the current situation.
Each manufacturer employs its unique approach to the technology used in their autonomous vehicles. Still, in general, driverless cars rely on advanced algorithms and machine learning capabilities that enable them to learn from past experiences and make smart decisions based on this knowledge.
The current generation of driverless cars being tested typically includes manual controls to allow a human driver to take control if necessary. However, future developments could eliminate the need for human intervention altogether, as technology improves and becomes more reliable.
In addition, driverless cars could be designed to communicate with each other, creating a network that shares information about traffic and road conditions in real time, which could enhance traffic flow and reduce the risk of accidents.
Overall, driverless car technology is a constantly evolving field, and as more testing and development take place, we can expect to see significant advancements in this area in the future.
Why do we need driverless cars?
Driverless cars have the potential to significantly improve our lives in many ways. Here are some benefits of this technology:
Improved Safety: By eliminating human error, which is a contributing factor in over 88% of road accidents, autonomous vehicles could make our roads much safer, provided they operate correctly.
Time-Saving: The average driver takes around 300 trips per year, which presents an opportunity to use the time spent driving for more productive activities. Driverless cars could allow people to use this time to catch up on work, relax, or engage in other activities.
Environmentally Friendly: Driverless cars have the ability to communicate with each other, allowing them to sense their position in relation to other vehicles and adjust their routes for optimal efficiency. This would help reduce traffic congestion and the emissions produced by idling engines in traffic jams.
Improved Accessibility: Driverless cars can provide on-demand services that link with public transport systems, thereby improving connectivity for rural communities. This technology could also benefit people with disabilities or elderly individuals who may struggle with independent mobility, thus providing more opportunities for social interaction and engagement.
Overall, driverless cars represent a significant technological advancement that could change the way we travel and live our lives in a more efficient, convenient, and safer manner.
What are the levels of autonomous driving in driverless cars?
The levels of autonomy in driverless cars refer to the extent to which a vehicle can operate without human intervention. The following are the six levels of autonomy as defined by SAE International:
Level 0: No Driving Automation
This level means that the driver is responsible for all aspects of driving the vehicle. There is no automation, and the driver must perform all driving tasks.
Level 1: Driver Assistance
At this level, the vehicle can assist the driver with specific tasks, such as maintaining a steady speed or staying in a lane. However, the driver is still responsible for most driving tasks.
Level 2: Partial Automation
This level of autonomy allows the vehicle to take over more driving tasks, such as steering and braking, but the driver must remain engaged and ready to take over control at any time.
Level 3: Conditional Automation
The vehicle can operate without any input from the driver in certain situations, such as on a highway or in traffic. However, the driver must still be available to take over control if needed.
Level 4: High Automation
At this level, the vehicle can operate without any input from the driver in most environments, but there must still be a human on board. The vehicle can handle most driving situations independently.
Level 5: Full Automation
This is the highest level of autonomy, in which the vehicle can operate without any input from a driver under any conditions. This level of automation means that the vehicle doesn’t need a steering wheel or pedals, as all driving tasks are handled by the vehicle itself.
As of now, most driverless cars operate at Level 3 or below, although some autonomous taxis and shuttles are currently being tested at Level 4.
The technology required to achieve Level 5 autonomy is still being developed and tested, and it may be some time before fully autonomous vehicles become a common sight on our roads.
What are the risks of driverless cars?
While fully autonomous vehicles are not yet available to purchase, some driverless technology features that assist drivers are already present in some cars. Here are some examples:
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): AEB is now a standard feature on most family cars. It uses sensors to detect if a collision is imminent and can apply the brakes automatically to prevent or minimize the impact. Some systems can even detect pedestrians and animals.
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC): ACC maintains a set distance from the vehicle in front to keep pace with traffic, helping prevent collisions or getting too close to other vehicles.
Lane Assist: This technology helps keep the vehicle in its lane by providing automatic steering input if the driver starts to drift off the lane, perhaps due to drowsiness or distraction.
Parking Assist: Many newer vehicles come equipped with parking assist, which uses sensors and cameras to scan the surrounding environment and park the car autonomously. The driver maintains control of the pedals, while the car handles the steering.
It’s worth noting that these features are not completely autonomous and require some level of driver involvement. Nonetheless, they offer a glimpse into the future of autonomous driving and highlight how technology is being integrated into everyday driving.
Fully autonomous vehicles are still undergoing extensive testing and development, and there are still numerous legal and regulatory hurdles that need to be overcome before they become widely available.
However, as more and more automakers invest in this technology, it is only a matter of time before fully autonomous vehicles become a reality.
When might we see driverless cars in the UK?
In 2017, former UK chancellor Philip Hammond promised that fully driverless cars would be on the roads by 2021. However, due to various factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, this target was not met.
Nonetheless, the UK government has announced that the first wave of self-driving vehicles, such as cars, lorries, and coaches, could be permitted on UK motorways by 2023, with wider roll-out plans set for 2025. The government has allocated £34 million for research into safety to support this initiative.
To accommodate the new technology, the Highway Code is being updated as current laws will require modification. The government has confirmed that cars equipped with automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) can travel at speeds up to 37mph in a single lane on congested motorways without requiring a driver’s intervention. However, the driver must be able to take control when necessary.
Trials of autonomous vehicles have been undertaken in several UK cities, including London, Bristol, Coventry, and Milton Keynes, and major car manufacturers such as Volvo, Ford, and Jaguar Land Rover have also conducted their own tests on UK roads.
Although progress is being made to introduce self-driving cars in the UK, much still needs to be accomplished before fully autonomous vehicles are widely accessible. Nevertheless, the country is actively pursuing this technological advancement, and it is only a matter of time before we witness a significant transformation in the transportation sector.
What’s happening elsewhere?
Driverless cars have seen significant advancements in the USA and China, with companies like Google and Tesla leading the way. Several of these companies have conducted tests of autonomous vehicles on public roads, with some even operating without a human safety driver. Apple is rumoured to be working on a fully autonomous self-driving car as well.
One notable development is Waymo, the autonomous driving brand of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, which launched a driverless taxi-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona. In March 2022, the service was extended to San Francisco, marking a significant milestone in the progress of driverless cars.
Despite these advancements, fully driverless cars are not yet available for purchase, and the technology still has a way to go before it becomes commonplace.
However, the steady progress of this technology means that it is gradually making its way into everyday transportation. It is only a matter of time before we see cars without a steering wheel on our roads.
What rules apply to driverless cars?
The UK Department for Transport (DfT) permits driverless cars to be tested on public roads, as long as they have a human operator present to take control of the vehicle if necessary.
In April 2022, the DfT proposed changes to the Highway Code, which would relieve human drivers of responsibility in the event of a collision involving an autonomous vehicle. Instead, insurance providers would be liable for any resulting claims.
The DfT also plans to allow passengers in self-driving cars to watch TV shows and films on built-in screens, provided that they remain prepared to retake control of the vehicle if necessary. However, the rules for this scenario will be clearly defined in the regulations.
It is expected that a comprehensive regulatory framework for driverless cars will be established in the UK by 2025.
This framework will provide guidelines for the safe and efficient use of autonomous vehicles, as well as regulations around their manufacture, sale, and operation. With these regulations in place, driverless cars are expected to become more prevalent on UK roads in the coming years.
Are driverless cars safe?
Driverless cars have been a topic of debate regarding safety concerns, especially after some high-profile accidents.
However, according to statistics, autonomous vehicles are significantly safer than traditional cars with a human driver.
Since driverless cars strictly adhere to traffic rules and never get distracted or tired, the number of accidents they are involved in is relatively low.
Despite their safety record, there are still some obstacles that driverless cars may encounter, which human drivers handle with ease. These include:
- Recognising hand signals from traffic police
- Differentiating between harmless debris and dangerous obstacles
- Identifying potholes
- Responding to temporary traffic lights
However, as the technology continues to evolve and the miles travelled by autonomous cars increase, these challenges are likely to be addressed.
Another significant safety concern is the possibility of driverless cars being hacked by malicious actors. While current models have security measures in place, hackers can eventually overcome any system given time.
The responsibility of ensuring the safety of these cars from cyber threats will fall on cybersecurity experts, who must stay ahead of hackers. One potential solution to prevent unauthorised access is biometric data, such as fingerprint or iris scanning.
In conclusion, while driverless cars are still relatively new and have some challenges to overcome, they are statistically safer than human-driven vehicles. As technology continues to advance and the challenges are addressed, driverless cars will become an increasingly safe and reliable option for transportation.
However, it is essential to ensure that they are secure from potential cyber threats, which requires ongoing attention from cybersecurity experts.
How will driverless car insurance work?
Driverless cars are not yet common on UK roads, but the government has already passed the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, which outlines regulations for their insurance.
The bill states that insured automated vehicles will be covered for accidents that occur while the car’s artificial intelligence (AI) is driving. If a driverless car is not properly insured, its owner will be liable for any damages or injuries caused.
To ensure that driverless cars remain safe, the bill also specifies that the car’s software must not be tampered with or modified, and “safety-critical” software updates must be installed. If an owner makes unauthorised adjustments to the car’s software, their insurance coverage will become void.
It is likely that insurance providers will consider different levels of automation when quoting for driverless car insurance. As technology and regulations continue to evolve, insurance policies will likely become more specialised and tailored to the unique risks and challenges posed by autonomous vehicles.
Although the specifics of insurance for fully autonomous cars are not yet known, it is clear that insurance will play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of driverless cars on the road.
As technology continues to develop and become more common, insurance providers will need to stay up-to-date with the latest regulations and technologies to provide comprehensive coverage for this emerging industry.
In the meantime, drivers of traditional, human-driven cars can take advantage of the latest deals and compare car insurance quotes to ensure they are properly protected on the road.
How much will it cost to insure a driverless car?
It is currently difficult to estimate the cost of insuring a driverless car until they become fully legal on UK roads. However, there is speculation that insurance costs for autonomous vehicles may actually decrease, ultimately benefiting car owners.
With a reduction in human error, it is likely that there will be fewer accidents, which may lead to insurance providers offering lower premiums to car owners.
Since driverless cars are equipped with advanced safety technology, it is reasonable to assume that there may be fewer incidents of reckless driving, speeding, or driving under the influence. This reduction in human error may lead to a decrease in accidents, and subsequently, a decrease in insurance claims.
However, it is important to note that as the technology is still relatively new and the regulatory framework continues to evolve, the cost of insuring a driverless car may initially be higher than traditional cars.
This is because the risks associated with autonomous vehicles are not yet fully understood, and insurance providers may need to account for the potential costs of repairing or replacing highly specialised equipment.
In conclusion, while it is difficult to determine the exact cost of insuring driverless cars at this time, it is reasonable to assume that insurance costs may ultimately decrease due to the reduced risk of accidents.
As the technology continues to evolve, insurance providers will need to stay up-to-date with the latest developments to ensure that car owners are properly protected on the road.