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Crash warning over driverless cars from House of Lords

Crash warning over driverless cars from House of Lords

The main social, behavioural and ethical questions relating to autonomous cars remain largely unanswered, including whether they will reduce accidents caused by human error, according to a report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.  

As a result, the government should give priority to commissioning and encouraging research studying behavioural questions and ensure it is an integral part of any trials it funds, said the Committee.  

Furthermore, the report challenged the idea that drivers would take back control of an autonomous vehicle in an emergency. The report said: “Given the evidence that reactions could be slow and poor in such circumstances, it may be that the risks associated with this are too great to tolerate.

“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to lower the number of road fatalities. But the eradication, or near eradication, of human error will only be realised with full automation.”  

The report said that the government had focused too heavily on research problems and testing technologies for highly automated vehicles with inadequate effort on thinking about deployment, especially user acceptance for road vehicles, or on the wide range of possible benefits from connected vehicles.

It was also important, said the report, that not only should driver behaviour be better understood but also the behaviour of other road users and pedestrians.

A further key finding of the report was that the government was too focused on road vehicles with the Committee arguing that connected and autonomous vehicles cut across all sectors with the earliest benefits likely to be in the marine and agricultural sectors.

Within the roads sector the government should play a coordinating role in bringing different stakeholders together, said the report. It should set up and a chair a forum that would allow local transport authorities, which are responsible for the majority of UK roads, to share knowledge and expertise on autonomous vehicles and to be deployed as advisers on the direction of future trials and research.  

In the international arena the government should take a leading role in a number of areas, suggested the Lords, including the development of sets of standards to address the ethical issues pertaining to connected and autonomous vehicles, to govern data retention in the event of an accident and to tackle the risks associated with cybersecurity and driverless vehicles.

Earl of Selborne, chairman of the Committee, 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 offered in different sectors.

“In order to ensure that the UK can benefit from emerging connected and autonomous vehicle technologies the government must continue to take action to close the engineering and digital skills gap.  

“Long-term developments in connected and autonomous vehicles have the potential to bring about transformational change to society but these changes will only take place if society is willing to both pay for and to adapt its behaviour to fit the technology