The Big Debate: Will ‘driverless cars’ be good or bad for road safety?

12.00 | 15 November 2017 | | 2 comments


Images and soundbites from ‘Public health, sustainability and road safety’ – the fourth session of the 2017 National Road Safety Conference.

Taking part are:

  • Christian Wolmar, writer and broadcaster (pictured above)

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport and is the author of a series of books on railway history, including his latest latest, ‘Are Trams Socialist? why Britain has never had a transport policy’.

He has spent nearly all of his working life as a journalist, and his interest in transport began at The Independent when he was appointed transport correspondent in 1992.

  • Dan Phillips, GATEway project manager, Royal College of Art

Dan Phillips is a designer and engineer with thirty years’ experience in the development of innovative environments, products and services.

He studied at Imperial College and Cambridge University and is currently managing research at the Royal College of Art, developing a health service with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and a freelance design consultant.

The big debate – what impact will driverless cars have on road safety?

Before the debate:
Good: 51
Bad: 11
Not sure: 38
After the debate:
Good: 44
Bad: 26
Not sure: 30


Aircraft don’t need people to fly – driverless cars are the future
Christian – planes (and trains) don’t have to contend with a million things going on around it. 

Dan – driving an aeroplane is not a simple thing – it will be the same sort of technology as will feature in driverless cars. Everybody recognises there are huge challenges, but we have to consider the outcomes. The impact of our road system in cities is failing time and time again.

Christian – the technology is not feasible, it won’t work if somebody stands in front of it.

Dan – absolutely, we have to make sure our transport system works in an urban environment.

Christian – but driverless cars are stupid!

Dan – but people also do stupid things

Dan Phillips – opening speech

A significant majority have a positive attitude to driverless vehicles – they would be cleaner and greener – and safer

94% of crashes involve human choice or error

Fatality rates in manufacturing are falling as automation increases

Airline crashes have reduced as a result of automation

Tesla’s crash rate dropped by 40% after introducing anti-crash software

Almost all road deaths are down to driver error

Driverless vehicles won’t get drunk, angry, be distracted etc

What will this driverless future look like – look at what people do on public transport and as passengers in cars

Christian Wolmar – opening speech

Driverless cars are a future that will never happen

All cars will have to be driverless (to deliver safety benefits)

Driverless cars will create road rage

Pedestrians won’t let driverless cars through

The transition period to driverless cars will be endless

Driverless cars will be programmed not to kill people – they will have to stop – ‘bad people’ will go out of their way to stop them

There are insuperable barriers to the idea

Lots of people like driving

Forcing us into driverless pods is a political decision

Be careful what you wish for





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    I note Dan Phillips says “..driverless vehicles won’t get…distracted…” Probably not, but the human drivers and pedestrians in their midst certainly will as and when the first driverless vehicles start to appear on our roads – let’s hope that doesn’t lead to collisions caused by mere mortals taking their eyes of the road to watch the progress of what will be seen as novelty vehicles.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Looking forward to reading more of Christian Wolmar’s point of view. The engineering machinery industry that I spent many years in has relied on software since the 1950s (OK back then it was originally simple logic circuits and clunky switches). The point being: software is not 100% foolproof – pretty good but not 100%. It wasn’t, it isn’t and is unlikely to be in the future.

    We may have to rely on transport controlled by software when we get on a commercial airplane but I have some confidence is their checks and maintenance schedules. Buy a used autonomous vehicle? Could be a bit like buying second hand tyres or child car seat – not recommended as you don’t know the history.

    Pat, Wales
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