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Will driverless cars really change driving?

Driverless cars seem to be drawn straight from the pages of science fiction novels but, with Google testing its own autonomous vehicles, things are beginning to change – driverless cars will soon become a very real fixture on Britain’s roads.

In 2014 it was announced that driverless car testing is set to accelerate with tests taking place in Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes and Greenwich. With the tide turning against ‘driven’ cars, we’re taking a look into what a world of driverless cars will be like.

If a driverless car crashes, who pays?

The trials in Bristol will examine some of the key practical concerns surrounding these kinds of vehicles, such as legal and insurance issues as well as public reaction.

Driverless cars are actually a lot further along than you might think, and it’s not because of safety concerns that we haven’t seen them on our roads yet. In fact, one of the major barriers to a world full of driverless cars is the question of who pays in the event of a crash.

Professor Sandor Veres, robotics researcher at the University of Sheffield, said: “One critical issue still to be addressed is where the responsibilities of the manufacturer and car user lie in case of any accident or issue. This needs to be tackled by the government’s proposed legal and regulatory review, due in 2017, by extending existing legislation on automatic safety-critical features such as ABS, dynamic stability, cruise control and automatic parking.”

There’s no doubt that the world of motoring is set to change in the coming years. The UK government is showing its support for the autonomous vehicle industry by offering £19m in funding for these initial tests. The Department for Transport is also looking at the legislation needed to conduct trials on public roads – there’s a lot of red tape to deal with.

Driverless trials start May 2015

We can expect to see shuttles carrying passengers around the trial cities by May 2015 and depending on how these are received by the public, we may even begin to see driverless cars on our roads in a few years time.

The other weakness in the driverless car’s armour is the easily-spooked human drivers in conventional vehicles sharing the road.

Regardless of how safe driverless cars become, it’s going to take some time for those of us in regular cars to trust a vehicle that doesn’t have a thinking, feeling person behind the wheel. You’re putting your trust in a machine – admittedly quite a sophisticated one – and that’s going to take some getting used to.

700,000 miles without a crash

The most extensive trials of driverless cars have been undertaken by search engine and technology giant, Google. In development since 2009, Google’s fleet of 24 vehicles has clocked up an impressive 700,000 miles of autonomous driving. In all that time and over all those miles, there has only been one accident and that was while the car was in manual drive – the accident was completely down to human error.

Superhuman safety

Although there will always be a place on our roads for manually driven cars, autonomous vehicles could change the flow of traffic dramatically and even improve safety. For example, when one of the Google driverless cars was being tested, it inexplicably stopped. Seconds later a deer jumped from behind a tree and ran across the road. The sensors on the car picked up the deer seconds before the human passengers had – saving Bambi’s skin for another BluRay re-release.

With that sort of technology already available, shouldn’t driverless cars of the future easily be safer than those driven by humans? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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