The DfT is to carry out a study of driver and road user behaviour to better understand how driverless vehicles can interact with society and other road users.
Claire Perry, transport minister, announced the new study while delivering the keynote presentation at the PACTS autumn conference yesterday (22 Oct) which focused on driverless vehicles.
The new study will run alongside Government trials that will take place next year in three cities, to demonstrate how driverless vehicles can be integrated into everyday life
Ms Perry said the three trial projects will be industry led, with a local authority partner, and will last between 18 and 36 months. The Government hopes to announce next month where the trials will be held, and they could start as early as 1 January 2015.
Ms Perry told delegates at the PACTS conference that driverless technology is “the future”, but stressed it is “important to reassure the public that we are careful of the risk, but also recognising the need for progress”.
Ms Perry said: “Today’s vehicles are so technically advanced that there is the real prospect that driverless cars could be on our roads in a relatively short amount of time.
“What makes this so intriguing isn’t just the technical challenge, it’s the cultural challenge. The idea of tech-enabled driving feels a bit weird. We are all so used to being masters –or mistresses –of the road. Invincible. Always right. Even though it’s our shortcomings that lead to most accidents.
“But if and when it is adopted, this evolution has the power to profoundly change our lives. Not just making driving safer and easier, but reducing congestion, making people more productive – and therefore helping boost our economy too.
“Driverless – or even highly automated – cars and vans can deliver improved safety, improved emissions, reduced noise, optimal usage of road capacity and better use of the scarcest commodities of all these days – time and attention."
Ms Perry added that driver/human error is reported to account for more than 90% of traffic incidents, so it is clear that “driverless cars will make a huge difference”.
She also said there are “great social benefits”, adding: “The advantages of driver–assisting technology for disabled people or those with poor eyesight are clear. I saw a Google video showing a man who was reported to have lost 95% of his vision driving a Google-car.”
Ms Perry also spoke of a future where “driverless buses provide better and more frequent services” by eliminating the cost of the driver. She suggested that a “truly driverless bus could transform rural public transport” and said that one of the country’s major bus companies is “already interested in driverless buses”.
Click here to read the full transcript of Ms Perry’s speech at the PACTS conference.