The idea of electrically powered, driverless cars patrolling the highways and byways of Scotland was once confined to the realms of science fiction.
Today, however, the Scottish Parliament will hear calls for that futuristic vision to be embraced when a SNP MSP argues that self-driving cars can “revolutionise” Scotland.
With the Scottish Government already committed to phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, Ivan McKee will argue that the shift to autopilot vehicles will go “hand in hand” with the transformation.
Mr McKee, the MSP for Glasgow Provan, has used the Members’ Business slot to table a motion suggesting that driverless cars will be on the roads in 2021 and commonplace in Scotland by 2030.
He will argue that their development will be more than a “transport revolution”, arguing that there are huge implications for energy policy, planning and the environment.
Google, Apple and Tesla are competing with conventional car manufacturers to exploit new techniques to produce vehicles that use cameras and sensors to identify hazards on the road.
Ahead of the debate, Mr McKee suggested today’s transport revolution could be compared with the invention of the internal combustion engine when it came to the impact it would have on society.
Mr McKee said: “In 1894 the London Times predicted that within fifty years the city streets would be nine feet deep in horse manure.
“At the time they couldn’t predict the enormous impact the development of the internal combustion engine – with cars fundamentally transforming the world as they knew it.
“Within our lifetimes manually-driven, petrol-burning cars will be replaced by driverless, electric vehicles. That might sound like science-fiction today, but they’ll be on our roads in a few years and will likely be commonplace within a decade. With any disruptive technology, there are risks as well as opportunities.
“It’s vital that we’re preparing now – and that we ensure that Scotland can benefit from being at the forefront of the coming transformative change.”
Last night RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said work had to be done to convince motorists of the benefits.
“Without doubt there are benefits that autonomous vehicles will bring to our roads such as greater accessibility, more reliable and safer journeys,” he said.
“But it is important that consumers are on board on the journey to driverless cars and they don’t feel they are simply being foisted onto them. Research conducted by the RAC has shown that two-thirds of drivers actually find the prospect of driverless cars worrying, and there remains significant levels of concern over issues such as liability in accidents, third party hacking of systems and trust in the technology to do its job. Therefore it is vitally important that consumers are engaged in the process.
“Some new vehicles will have some features which could be classed as quasi-autonomous, such as adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking and as more functions become available, it is important that consumers not only become familiar with them, but have the confidence in the regulatory environment within which autonomous vehicles can operate.”