Driverless cars are coming, like it or not
Experts predict UK car network will be highly-autonomous by 2040
Driverless cars engender some strongly held opinions but experts say there is one thing beyond argument - we don't have much choice in the matter, they're coming.
However, we could be waiting some time: all UK cars predicted to be 'highly autonomous' by 2040, but the nation's vehicles won't be fully driverless until 10 years later.
And when this does happen in 34 years time, 95 per cent of today's traffic collisions won't take place, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has suggested.
Driverless pods are currently being trialed at Heathrow Airport transporting passengers to Terminal 5
IMechE said fully autonomous cars are further away than many people may have expected as part of its latest driverless vehicle report released on Thursday.
While testing is well underway in the US, Tesla has already launched a part-autonomous system and the UK Government has a dedicated fund to speed-up the development of driverless vehicles, the institute said there will be no 'Big Bang' for the technology, rather a process of increasing levels of automation over a number of years.
But in order for this to take place, IMechE warned there are societal questions that need to be addressed so that driverless cars are accepted by the public and legally able to travel on UK roads.
Part of these changes include forward-thinking for how insurance will work for vehicles in the future - something that'll be discussed in March by 11 major UK insurers making up the new Automated Driving Insurer Group, created to discuss industry-related issues linked to the emergence of autonomous cars.
Philippa Oldham, head of transport at the Institution of the Mechanical Engineers and lead author of the report, said: 'We need to urgently resolve legislative, technological and insurance issues to help encourage the rollout of autonomous or driverless vehicles.
'The benefits to this sort of technology are huge, with estimates that the overall UK economic benefit could be as much as £51 billion a year due to fewer accidents, improved productivity and increased trade.
'Currently 95 per cent of all crashes happen due to driver error, so it makes sense for Government, industry and academia to redouble efforts to look at how we phase out human involvement in driving vehicles.'
Earlier this month, the Government announced it is pushing ahead with 'landmark' plans to ramp up driverless car technology by pumping £20 million into eight autonomous-vehicle projects.
The sum is part of the £100 million Intelligent Mobility Fund pot, which had been setup to support a range of programmes currently working to develop driverless tech.
One of these projects includes tests of connected and highly-automated cars by Jaguar Land Rover staff on 41 miles of public roads around Coventry and Solihull.
However, Oldham has called for more Government action to speed-up an autonomous car environment in the country.
'There needs to be much more action from Government to help integrate driverless vehicles into the current UK transport network, ' she added.
'This will include updates and standardisation to road signage and road markings to enable these driverless vehicles to operate in the safest way possible.
'There is also a role for the car dealerships and vehicle manufacturers as they will need to clarify how they will provide the greater level of after-sales care, technical updates and upgrades that will be required to ensure the safe introduction of these vehicles on our roads.
'Much more work needs to be done to clarify regulation and insurance issues, such as where liability lies in case of an accident.'
IMechE's report was released a day after U.S. vehicle safety regulators said the artificial intelligence system piloting self-driving Google cars could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward for potential approval of autonomous vehicles on the roads across the Atlantic.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Google in a written letter that it will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's car design as referring to the self-driving system and not to any of the vehicle occupants.
The NHTSA's letter said: 'We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.'