Self-driving car tech could add to congestion and bring new dangers, say MPs

The UK Transport Select Committee has call for clearer thinking and rapid legislation from government to protect the public from future threats around driverless vehicles

Self-driving vehicles could worsen congestion, create new dangers for less skilled human drivers who might need to take retake control of vehicles in challenging circumstances, and present cybersecurity risks due to their connected capabilities.

That’s the verdict of a new report by parliament’s Transport Select Committee, which is calling for a range of measures to ensure future moves towards automated driving are safe and create no additional harms.

While the committee recognises a broad range of possible uses for self-driving car technology across HGVs, buses, taxis and private cars, it also acknowledges that “over the last decade, progress in this technology has failed to meet many of its promoters’ predictions, and this has bred understandable cynicism”.

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The report adds that it’s hopeful expectations have become more realistic, saying: “Self-driving vehicles that can go anywhere at any time remain purely hypothetical, but in more circumscribed forms they can become reality.”
On the safety front, the committee criticised the government’s proposed ambition that self-driving be ‘as safe as a competent and careful driver’, saying it’s too vague. The government should set a clearer and more stretching threshold, the report says.

Human driving standards could fall

The committee also notes that over time, reliance on self-driving tech means drivers may become less well practised and skillful. It wants the government to set out changes to driving tests, and its strategy to ensure drivers understand self-driving technology, and have the necessary skills to take control of vehicles in any circumstances.

The report also addresses the fact that self-driving vehicles will rely on well-maintained roads and signage, nationwide connectivity and up to date digital road information, yet many preparations are “siloed and divorced from broader planning”.

“If the Government is serious about self-driving vehicles, it should ensure meeting their needs is an integral part of future infrastructure strategy,” it says.
In spite of the challenges highlighted by the report, the committee also acknowledges that the self-driving tech sector is “a British success story”.

“We have a competitive advantage, and we must maintain it,” the report concludes. “To do this the Government must pass comprehensive legislation in the next parliamentary session to put in place the robust regulatory framework it promised. Failing to do so will do significant and lasting damage both to the UK’s self-driving vehicle industry and to this country’s reputation as a trailblazer.”

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