TECH

Driverless Cars Would Save 'Hundreds' Of Lives A Year

22/12/2014 16:05 GMT | Updated 22/12/2014 16:59 GMT

Driverless cars, for which extensive testing starts in the new year, could be on the roads within 15 years, engineers believe.

And their introduction could save hundreds of lives a year, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) reckons.

The £19 million trials of driverless cars - officially called autonomous vehicles - have also been welcomed by road safety group Brake, which believes they could lead to "significantly reduced casualties on our roads".

Likely to start towards the end of January 2015, the trials will see driverless cars - albeit with a qualified driver in the driver's seat - take to public roads in Greenwich in south London, Bristol, Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire and Coventry.

The IET said: "Autonomous vehicles could be on the roads in the next 15 years."

It added that for every 10,000 errors made by drivers, just one error will be committed by a computer. So the new technology could save hundreds of lives a year.

The Institution went on: "Within 15 years, we predict that the performance of cars could be altered to fit the driver. A learner or teenager who has recently passed their test may have their speed limited automatically. However, a more experienced driver getting in the same car would be able to travel much faster.

"Automated cars could also travel in platoons, which would be linked up to traffic light systems to keep them moving and avoid congestion. There is likely to be growth in car clubs, with few people owning their own vehicles. Taxis are likely to become redundant. Speeding may become a thing of the past as cars are likely to be fitted with speed- limiting devices.

Phil Blythe, chairman of the IET's transport policy panel, said: "I think it's an exciting opportunity for the UK."

Tests of driverless cars have already been carried out off-road but the trials, which will last from 18 to 36 months, will be the first time such vehicles have been tested on public roads.

Each of the four test centres will look at different aspects of autonomous vehicles. The Bristol project, for example, will investigate the legal and insurance aspects and explore how the public react to such vehicles.

The towns in which the trials are taking place were chosen by Government-funded body Innovate UK.

Nick Jones, lead technologist at Innovate UK, said: "Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine and at Innovate UK, we want to help the UK to lead the world in making that happen.

"There are so many new and exciting technologies that can come together to make driverless cars a reality, but it's vital that trials are carried out safely, that the public have confidence in that technology and we learn everything we can through the trials so that legal, regulation and protection issues don't get in the way in the future."

AA president Edmund King said: "The majority of AA members aren't quite ready to take their hands off the wheel to give total autonomy to the car.

"As many as 83% of AA members still enjoy driving. However, drivers are ready to embrace the safety benefits, such as autonomous emergency braking or lane control, which are making today's modern cars much safer."