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Safety must come first in driverless car trials, says Thatcham

Government plans to accelerate the introduction of driverless car trials on public roads to become a world leader must be balanced with vital safety considerations.

The Government is looking to accelerate trials of fully autonomous cars with no driver onboard

So says Thatcham Research following yesterday’s Department for Transport announcement on the Government’s plans.

The current commitment is to have fully self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2021, as part of the modern Industrial Strategy, but the DfT statement said it’s looking to move forward and is developing a process to support advanced trials of automated vehicles as it seeks to cement its position as a world leader in automated vehicle trials; the UK’s market for connected and automated vehicles is estimated to be worth £52bn by 2035.

In response, Thatcham Research director of research, Matthew Avery said: “We support the Government’s ambition to position the UK at the vanguard of technology development. We also welcome the advent of fully automated cars and the many benefits to mobility and car safety they will bring. However, the desire to accelerate the implementation of these technologies while keeping all road users safe is a delicate balancing act. Safety must be a key priority, and this must not be compromised to achieve a leadership position.

“We look forward to the opportunity to engage in the Government’s consultation on The Automated Driving Code of Practice.”

Thatcham Research has also been very clear that in the run-up to fully autonomous technology, carmakers should stop misleading drivers by using ‘autonomous’ terms for technology that still requires driver involvement.

It follows concerns raised by UK insurers and Thatcham that the evolution of automated driving technology could result in a short-term increase in crashes due to drivers thinking their cars are more capable than they are. The group published a paper at the time saying that international regulators need to make a clear distinction between such ‘Assisted’ and ‘Automated’ systems, which it had already said pose a grey area, and setting out 10 criteria that all cars must have before they can be called ‘automated’.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.