More research needed on safety implications of autonomous cars, says Lords report
Making sure that the UK benefits from autonomous vehicles will require further research to address possible safety risks as well as to ascertain the social and economic benefits of such vehicles.
These are just some of the findings of a new report published by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on ‘Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The future?’
The report says the main social, behavioural and ethical questions relating to autonomous cars remain largely unanswered; such as whether they will reduce accidents caused by human error.
However it adds that realising the benefits of increased road safety – by reducing human error – will depend on the level of automation and level of adoption, and warns that drivers could become “complacent and overly reliant on technology”. It adds that this is of particular concern in emergency situations, where a driver may react slowly to taking back control of a vehicle and says it may be the case that for Level 3 vehicles – where drivers can completely pass ‘safety-critical functions’ to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions – the risks will be too great to tolerate. The risk of complacency also extends to other road-users who will interact with autonomous vehicles, such as pedestrians and cyclists. Further research is necessary to understand these risks, including possible measures to address them.
The report also sets out that achieving the full benefits of connected and autonomous vehicles on the UK’s roads is likely to require new road and communications infrastructure. Mobile coverage on UK roads will need to be improved in order to take full advantage of the possibilities of connected vehicles, and the report says the Government must take action with Highways England and Local Transport Authorities to engage with industry to examine the potential for ensuring that new infrastructure can be future-proofed and will not need expensive retro-fitting.
The committee also says the development of connected and autonomous vehicles across different sectors needs coordination and the Government, working with key stakeholders, must get a grip on this chiefly by establishing a Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Leadership Council as soon as possible to play a key role in developing a strategy for connected and autonomous vehicles.
However it says that the Government should not need to invest heavily or to take the lead in research and development for fully automated cars, adding that existing manufacturers and new entrants will carry out their own R&D if there is a clear business case for investing in these technologies.
Finally, the report finds evidence that the Government is too focused on highly-automated private road vehicles, when the early benefits are likely to appear in other sectors, such as marine and agriculture. It adds that the Government must broaden its focus so that its work on connected and autonomous vehicles cuts across all sectors.
Chairman of the Committee, the Earl of Selborne, said: “Connected and autonomous vehicles is a fast-moving area of technology and the Government has much to do, alongside industry and other partners, to position the UK so that it can take full advantage of the opportunities that CAV offer in different sectors.”
Stan Boland, CEO of autonomous vehicle software company, FiveAI, said the report makes some important points about the major impact of autonomous vehicles on societies: “As well as the significant environmental, cost and safety benefits fully autonomous vehicles will provide, AVs will change the entire model of how we consume transport and the economics of personal mobility. Instead of consumers owning their own vehicles which sit parked, unused and depreciating in value 95% of the time, in future we will switch to a ‘mobility-as-a-service’ model.
“This model will dramatically change the economics of personal mobility and will transform the automotive industry beyond recognition.”
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