The advent of self-driving cars will herald a “revolution” for many elderly and disabled people, the transport secretary said yesterday.
Chris Grayling claimed the technology would grant people who cannot drive a “new sense of freedom,” and said the first completely self-driving cars, which dispense with steering wheels and pedals – could be a fixture on Britain’s roads within four years.
In a speech to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), Mr Grayling said the benefits autonomous vehicles will have on “human mobility” was the “real core” of their disruptive potential.
He said: “There are many people who cannot drive today, who cannot travel on our roads, who will be able to take to the roads in future.
“The elderly, people with disabilities, who cannot drive today are going to discover a new sense of freedom and opportunity and independence. That probably is the biggest transformation that will happen.”
Mr Grayling said there were “huge safety implications” surrounding the technology, such as eliminating human error, the single biggest contributory factor in accidents.
While the concept of a self-driving car has long been the preserve of science fiction, Mr Grayling said they would become reality “much sooner than most people expect,” adding: “I expect the first completely self-driving cars to reach the market and to be used on UK roads by 2021. I want to see that revolution be happening by then.”
A host of car manufacturers and tech companies are working on designs for autonomous vehicles. Some, like Ford and Google, feature removable steering wheels, effectively eliminating the need for a human driver altogether.
A “cluster of excellence” is also to be created along the M40 corridor to develop driverless car technology using existing testing centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford, Milton Keynes and London.
However, current legislation will have to be updated before the kind of fully autonomous vehicles referred to by Mr Grayling are allowed on Britain’s roads.
A new compulsory insurance framework that covers automated vehicles will be mandated as part of measures in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which is currently going through parliament.
ABI director general Huw Evans said: “Fully automated cars have the potential to drastically improve road safety, reduce transport delays and increase the mobility of thousands of people who currently find it hard to get around.
“Insurers have helped shape the straightforward proposals for insuring autonomous vehicles, and will continue to support efforts to bring these innovative vehicles safely on to the UK’s roads.”