Driverless cars are on the way – and it’s just a matter of when they take over from humans at the wheel.
And as the self-drive car market gears up, an £8 billion boost could be delivered to the UK economy.
Industry leaders see driverless technology freeing the roads for the disabled and those who cannot drive enabling them to cast off the shackles of inflexible public transport to gain the opportunity to find well-paying jobs.
The main obstruction to driverless vehicles is road traffic law, say industry experts.
“Autonomous vehicles will be capable of making decisions in the event of an accident that could result in life or death,” said Ian Robertson, the only Briton sitting on the board of German car giant BMW.
“But I don’t think we will reach a stage where regulation can match that. This is not just one industry, this is whole different industries coming together – data, detection – it needs all of government to work on it.”
Although British business minister Greg Clark pledged the government was working to remove barriers in the market, safety was still an issue.
Several crashes involving driverless cars have worried lawmakers with safety concerns – the latest involving trials by cab firm Uber.
“We need to trial it carefully but this is life-saving technology,” Clark said. “It would be wrong to convey this as inherently risky technology. Human error is a more dependable source of accidents and fatalities and this has got to be a well-tested, demonstrated and regulated.
“We don’t want to get back to waving red flags. We can get it right and need to get to a common-sense application of technology that will save lives.”
Clark explained that 1,700 people die on British roads each year and that human error accounted for 90% of the deaths.
The minister also announced the first phase of £100 million of government funding aimed at making Britain a world leader in autonomous vehicle technology.
The money will be spent on a “connected and autonomous vehicle” corridor between London and Birmingham, where companies can access test tracks and seek backing for research and development.
The M40 motorway between the two cities already host many innovative automotive companies.