Driverless vehicles are coming to a street near you — possibly as early as next year.
Will they usher in a world in which empty cars collect you from a rain-soaked station, pick up the children from school, and wait to drive merry couples home from Sunday lunch at the pub?
Probably not for another decade or so. But in the first few years at least, an interesting impact of the driverless car on families may be on the pocket, rather than on lifestyles.
At a British industry event last week to show off the cutting-edge technology being knitted together to create the fully fledged driverless car, debate centred on what the developments will mean for owners in terms of insurance and the law.
David Williams, managing director of underwriting at insurer AXA, which is involved in the Venturer consortium — one of three government-backed groups in the UK racing to get the technology on the road — says that in the long run, car owners’ insurance should be cheaper, some believe as much as four-fifths less. He says:
“Some 93 per cent of accidents on our roads are caused by human error and it is thought that driverless cars will reduce this number by 50 per cent. If accident levels fall, then so will premiums.”
Prototypes of some of the space-age cars were on display last week at an event hosted by Venturer to explain how these vehicles are likely to fit into everyday life.
With cars of the future programmed to stick to speed limits, drive perfectly without the gas-guzzling driving techniques of a boy racer and follow all the rules of the road, there are other financial attractions for car owners. It may eventually mean goodbye to driving lessons, tests and licences. And it could be liberating in other ways, allowing children, frail older folk or those suffering a driving phobia to enjoy the freedom of the open road.
But the driving test will not be redundant any time soon, experts say, as in the early years it is expected that cars will still need to have a competent driver with the ability to take manual control if the autonomous system fails.