Raised eyebrows over proposed Modern Transport Bill 19 May 2016

While welcoming proposals outlined in yesterday’s (18 May 2016) Queen’s speech aimed at promoting the development of autonomous and electric vehicles, the transport industry is generally sceptical and concerned that funding may be withdrawn from other priorities.

“With many competing priorities for the UK’s finite pool of skilled engineers, companies both large and small must have equally compelling incentives to participate, warns Paul McCormick, managing director of transportation consultancy AECOM, which also looks after FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) administration.

“The government must also consider the international picture, where the UK risks falling behind other EU member states in the development of connected vehicle infrastructure,” he continues.

“For example, consideration needs to be given to how the current Roads Investment Programme should be adapted so that new routes and smart motorways can be made ready for both driverless and connected vehicles.”

McCormick also warns that, aside from technology and infrastructure issues, “resolving the non-technological issues is also important in order for driverless and connected vehicles to operate effectively across borders”.

And he indicates that everything from operation and standardisation, to legislation, insurance and liability issues need time and attention.

That said, automotive engineering consultancy Thatcham Research is optimistic about the government’s proposed timelines.

The organisation points out that impressive assisted driving technologies are already embedded in commercial vehicles and passenger cars – citing AEBS (autonomous emergency braking systems) and LDWS (lane departure warning systems) and Volvo's Pilot Assist, which can drive cars at low speeds, controlling steering, acceleration and braking.

Thatcahm believes that 2018 “will be a landmark year”, with some vehicles featuring auto-pilot functionality, automatically driving the vehicle and allowing hands-free driving “for around three minutes at a time”.

By 2020, however, Thatcham predicts that the industry will be moving towards fully autonomous vehicles with, for example, defined segments of motorways being designated for vehicles “to take complete control”.

And by 2025, the organisation envisages that vehicles be able fully cable of driving themselves.

That said, Thatcham’s timeline apply primarily to passenger cars, where the numbers and the salc eo investment frar outweigh those in the heavy goods vehicle sector.

Brian Tinham

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