UK driverless timescales questioned in expert survey

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The UK government’s ambition of having fully driverless cars on the road by 2021 is unlikely to be met, according to a survey of intelligent transport system professionals.

Most of the respondents to the survey by members association ITS (UK) were split fairly evenly between those who expect Level 5 driverless cars to be available within 15 years on UK roads, and those who think it will take longer for the technology to become widespread.

Only one respondent thought that the government’s 2021 timescale, set out by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond in the autumn budget, was realistic.

The ITS (UK) members surveyed raised concerns that the public might not be willing to ‘let go’ of driving their cars. Respondents also noted that while driverless vehicles themselves might be ready, the road network would not be able to support them.



Regulations surrounding insurance and liability were also raised as issues that could hamper the implementation of fully driverless cars.

Our survey suggests that even among those who work on transport technology day in day out there are clear differences of opinion on timescales and benefits of autonomous vehicles
— ITS (UK) Secretary General Jennie Martin

However, there was more support for the idea that some driverless vehicles would be able to operate in certain circumstances, such as on dedicated roads or motorway lanes, much sooner.

Many respondents also felt that driverless technology has many benefits, but that there is a danger of overpromising and underdelivering in the short term.

“Our survey suggests that even among those who work on transport technology day in day out there are clear differences of opinion on timescales and benefits of autonomous vehicles,” said ITS (UK) Secretary General Jennie Martin.

“However understanding that there may be a problem is the first step to solving it, and we are ideally placed to bring our combined thousands of years of knowledge and experience to help shape the future of our transport system to ensure that it is safe, efficient and fit for purpose.”

The survey also highlighted concerns that driverless car publicity is harming the implementation of technologies that could be used to improve safety today.

Half of those questioned felt that publicity about driverless vehicles was hampering public awareness about existing automatic driver assistance systems, such as automatic braking and lane departure warnings.

Recent research from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders revealed that new driver assistance technology is already helping to improve British road safety, with two-thirds of new cars on sale now being offered with at least one self-activating safety system.

To help deal with too much focus on and investment in driverless cars, one ITS (UK) member suggested that more attention is paid to solving today’s real-world problems, by prioritising the stepping stones to autonomy that can deliver benefits now. Only a quarter of those questioned did not feel that this was an issue. 

Andy Graham of White Willow Consulting, Chair of ITS (UK)’s Connected Vehicle Interest Group, said: “It’s clear that when we’re talking about Connected and Automated Vehicles it should be Connected, then a very big pause, and Automated, because that is what it will be like.”