ITS UK members cast doubt on predicted driverless vehicle timescales


A survey of intelligent transportation system professionals in the UK suggests that they do not think that fully driverless cars will be on the country’s roads by 2021, as suggested by Chancellor Phillip Hammond in his autumn budget statement.

Only one member of the UK’s Intelligent Transport Society (ITS UK) who answered the survey thought that this timescale was realistic, while the rest were largely split 50/50 between those who expect SAE Level 5 driverless cars, which operate completely independently of humans, to be available within 15 years, and the other half think it will take more than 15 years to become widespread.

The members raised concerns about the public’s willingness to ‘let go of the steering wheel’, and that while the vehicles themselves may be ready, the road network will not be able to support them and that it will be a ‘long and rocky road’ to full autonomy. Others believe that regulations surrounding insurance and liability will hamper the implementation.

However, there was more belief that some vehicles would be able to drive in certain circumstances much sooner, such as on dedicated roads or motorway lanes. It was widely agreed that the technology has many benefits, but that there was a danger of overpromising and underdelivering in the short term.

There was also concern that the publicity for driverless cars is harming the implementation of technologies that could be used to improve safety now. Half of the respondents thought that the driverless vehicle publicity was hampering public awareness of existing automatic driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as automatic braking and lane departure warnings, which are currently available, but tend to be only on higher-level vehicles.

One member commented that there is far too much focus and investment in driverless cars, and not enough in solving current real-world problems. It was suggested that the right solution would be to focus on the stepping stones to autonomy that deliver benefits now. Only a quarter of members said they thought this was not an issue.

“Our survey suggests that even among those who work on transport technology that there are clear differences of opinion on timescales and benefits of autonomous vehicles,” said ITS UK’s secretary general, Jennie Martin.

“However, understanding that there may be a problem is the first step to solving it, and we are ideally placed to help shape the future of our transport system to ensure that it is safe, efficient and fit for purpose.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).