Five big tests that driverless cars will have to pass


James Titcomb

November 16, 2015

Self-driving cars developed by Google and others are likely to be technically superior before long, but their road to the mainstream will not be simple

It would be easy to believe that robot cars are powering inevitably onto our roads . Google’s self-driving vehicles have totted up more than 1.2 million miles – 90 years worth of driving experience – on California’s streets since 2009. Various countries and US states are bending over backwards to accommodate driverless car research. And the car industry is putting billions of pounds into research in an attempt to keep up with Silicon Valley’s deep-pocketed entrants.

This optimism is well grounded. Driverless cars promise enormous benefits: a revolution in productivity, a near-zero level of road fatalities, faster travel and a seismic improvement in energy efficiency.

Huge parts of driving law will have to be rewritten for a driverless future. Who will pay in the event of an accident? The driver can’t be responsible, given that they were not controlling the car. If you point to the owner, then they are likely to blame the manufacturer. In this case, how is insurance going to be worked out?

A lot of powerful entrenched industries are also going to be shaken up by self-driving vehicles. Look at how London’s taxi drivers have responded to the arrival of Uber and imagine what would happen if they were undercut many times more by taking away the cost of a driver. Add public transport unions, truck drivers and logistics networks and there will be a powerful opposition.

Changing habits

And finally, but not insignificant, are our habits. The mass car ownership model is more than a century old. Cars are a status symbol and something to be proud of for many people. And drivers like to be in control, even if it is unsafe and time-consuming.

Even if the technology behind driverless cars is practically perfect, its road to the mainstream is likely to be far from smooth.

This article was written by James Titcomb from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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