According to the UK Government, we’ll see self-driving vehicles on our roads by 2021, but is there actually an appetite for this development in the automotive industry? The future of car ownership and the impact of driverless cars in the UK are both topics that have been much debated in recent years – and big changes are happening thanks to technological advancements. 

These developments in the industry prompt questions about the pros and cons of moving forward with automation. Do the public want this development and what will its impact be?

Prevention of road deaths

recent report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) estimated that close to 4,000 lives will be saved by 2030 due to driverless cars being introduced to the UK’s roads. 

The SMMT said in its report that the implementation of self-driving technology could see a huge 47,000 serious collisions prevented by 2030. That means 3,900 road deaths could also be avoided.

Data from the Department for Transport in 2017 shows that driver error or reaction caused 70% of the 126,977 casualties from road accidents in the year. Of these errors or reactions, the driver or rider failing to look properly accounted for 39%.

Taking a look at the number of road traffic incidents caused by human error, the appeal of self-driving cars for the Government and organisations such as the SMMT becomes quite clear. However, the infrastructure required to support this technology will also need to be up to scratch for it to be a viable, and safe, option moving forwards.

Among other areas requiring improvements, new laws will need to be put in place and 4G coverage along the UK’s road network will require boosting.

What about the economy?

If the SMMT’s predictions are correct, more than £2billion will be saved and the UK will see the benefits of up to 420,000 new jobs and £62 billion in extra economic growth. 

The Department for Transport also released information showing that the NHS could hugely benefit from vehicle automation. In 2017, £1.794 billion worth of ambulance and other medical costs was spent managing the repercussions of accidents.

Do road users want driverless cars?

Although Department for Transport data and the SMMT report points towards human error being the biggest cause of accidents, road users themselves are apprehensive about these advancements. 

Technology company Thales discovered that more than half of the UK population wouldn’t feel safe being transported in a self-drive car. The company also found a fifth of people were said to be fearful about even being in a driverless car and almost a quarter describe themselves as feeling ‘apprehensive’. These apprehensions may be down to well documented crashes of companies such as Uber, Tesla and Google in the USA. 

While there is a strong case for driverless cars being introduced in the UK to enhance safety and elevate the economy, safety is something that can only be guaranteed with the correct infrastructure in place. Before these kinds of advancements are implemented on a large scale, it should be recognised that it’s heavily reliant on the technology being fully up to speed to ensure there are no connectivity or safety concerns. 

Right now there’s an appetite for the positives that could come from driverless cars – but not for the potential downsides. Until fears can be alleviated, opinion is mixed.