Stop and Go Traffic for Autonomous Vehicles

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A busy week for DfT’s press office with regulatory reforms aimed at opening up trials of autonomous vehicles receiving front-page treatment in The Times on Wednesday. The article headline proclaimed that driverless cars will be on UK roads by the end of the year and went on to describe how the changes would scrap the requirement for a safety driver. A flurry of reaction ensued in media comment and letters to the Times – many pouring cold water on the timeline offered and pointing to stringent safety standards that would need to be passed in order for trials to be approved. Many experts do not believe that the technology is advanced enough for any firms to pass the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles’ requirements any time soon.

In particular, Nicole Kobie offered a strongly worded rebuttal in WIRED, highlighting that Waymo is probably the most advanced player in autonomous cars, but that even its vehicles currently need safety drivers “in case of rain.”

The letters page was similarly inundated. Christian Wolmar, a vocal critic of autonomous vehicles and author of the acerbically titled Road to Nowhere, pointed to the lack of public desire for AVs and the fact that they will make more of our transportation sector privatised.

We need a public discourse somewhere between optimism and cynicism. DfT should be lauded for seeking to create a legal framework that enables the UK to be a pioneer. However, hasty trials that lead to death or injury have the risk of backfiring spectacularly, which could set the adoption of self-driving technology back a number of years in the UK. Beyond the current technology limitations, the ethical questions that are important to the insurance and legal sectors are exceptionally thorny. Prepare to read more and more about trolley tests.

News in Brief:

Around Whitehall:

AI and digital design to transform future of UK construction

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ai-and-digital-design-to-transform-future-of-uk-construction

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