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‘Self-driving cars’ on UK roads by 2021 – Chris Grayling

Tuesday 7th November 2017

Autonomous vehicles offer ‘tremendously exciting’ potential benefits, including making travel by road ‘far safer’, according to the transport secretary Chris Grayling.

Mr Grayling made his upbeat assessment at a conference in London yesterday (6 Nov) organised by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and focusing on autonomous vehicles.

The transport secretary told delegates that many who ‘can’t currently drive’ will be able to take to the road, including the elderly and those with disabilities which prevent them from driving.

He also highlighted the potential to ‘make much more efficient use of the road network’, pointing out that there are currently six cars for every 10 people in the UK - but they are only used about 3% of the time.

Connected and autonomous taxis could deliver the same number of trips with just 10% of the vehicles, he said, and an autonomous car fleet ‘could reduce delays by 40% on the strategic road network, and 30% in urban areas’.

Mr Grayling then went on to talk about the ‘huge safety implications’, and how self-driving cars will make road travel ‘far safer’.

He identified human error as the ‘biggest contributory factor to accidents today’ – responsible for more than 85% of all reported UK road incidents in 2016.

These safety benefits are coming ‘sooner than most people expect’, he added, with the first self-driving cars ‘expected to reach the market – and to be used on UK roads – by 2021’.

Click here to read the full transcript of Mr Grayling’s speech, delivered to delegates attending the ‘Changing gear – adapting to autonomous vehicles’ conference organised by the ABI on 6 November 2017.


Category: Autonomous vehicles

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The one benefit that I can see with autonamous vehicles is that the lag between vehicles will be abolished as the vehicles will electronically engage and stopping will be automatic and there will be no 2/3rds or 1.5 of a second delay that occurs with humans in control.

Pasengers will therefore get used to the closer distances that this will enable but unfortunalty as some AEB systems can be switched off then maybe drivers will continue to drive far too close to the vehicles in front as if the AEB were still switched on. It would be a bad day when that happens. There would be collisions galore.
m.worthington Manchester

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Just been at day one of RSGB conference. Been announced a new company formed to take road safety knowledge and assistance around the world. I agree with m.worthington about concentrating on our own problems - it's just that I think the world's problems are our own........
Nick, Lancashire

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-2

I dont think that we should be commenting on what other 3rd world countries are going to do but concentrate on our own problems.

There are going to be problems. At the moment with Autonomic Braking Systems first there are three types depending on car usage ie urban only or urban and faster roads and then faster roads still. The prices range from the cheapest at about £250 to the more expensive ones at around " £2500. Unfortunately at this moment in time some are not yet ready for the road as some bugs have to be eradicated. Like at certain speeds and in a moving situation one can still collide with the vehicle in front. The greatest problem I see is that although it will be a legal requirement for new vehicles manufactured after a certain date to be fitted with one of these devices in many cases they can be switched off and so one is then left with the same age old problem of following on distances and relative speeds to sort out. In fact the matter could be made even more dangerous and in fact worse than the present situation.
m.worthington Manchester

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+4

You make a great point John and I'm glad you raised it here. There are many inequalities across the planet which are not going to be sorted by the present economic model. Road safety improvements are so much more easy to implement than reducing inequalities unfortunately. People do not all agree to "lose" something of what they have for the common good.
Nick, Lancashire

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+2

A further thought Charles, using the music analogy, it's common to see bands comprised of musicians playing their own traditional instruments, side-by-side with automated or computer derived music - co-existing in perfect harmony you might say. I'm only asking that those who enjoy driving should still be allowed to do so alongside those who don't.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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+1

I'm happy to share the roads with autonomous vehicles Charles, but I got the impression that the idea is that one day only autonomous vehicles would be the only vehicles allowed on the roads. Why not instead, a system where the autonomous vehicles are available to those who want them or need them, but are not compulsory. If it is to be compulsory, perhaps motoring law breakers and the accident-prone should be the first in line.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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+2

Hugh, you might well enjoy driving and you might well be lucky enough to be able to stay fully alert 100% of the time and drive at an appropriate speed and with the necessary care and attention 100% of the time whilst you are at the wheel, but don't forget the broad spectrum of physical and mental abilities and personalities that the rest of "the great British public" are endowed with - whilst they all also comply with the laws of human nature.

Given that we are unwilling or unable to provide a road system which can tolerate use by all drivers who fall within the full range of the laws of human nature (evidenced by the unacceptable road casualty figures), for the sake of road safety, we need to strive to increase the proportion of "drivers" who comply with the subset of those laws that our roads are optimised for - the mindless automatons. And what better fits that bill than a fully mindless and autonomous car! :o)

You need perhaps to adapt your analogy with musicians to include the majority, those who cannot play a musical instrument and who rely on technology to create competent music for them.
Charles, England

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+1

Nick, way back in this thread you refer to "Vehicles on "tarmac" can be moving much closer to each other as the friction between the tyres and the road surface is generally not overcome by gusts of wind or water currents. Each mode of travel has its own peculiar characteristics which need to be overcome." I'm glad you said generally as going through standing water, not recommended, and being on a P2W or bicycle in windy conditions will affect the direction of travel in possible close proximity on tarmac, cobbles or the general potholed surface we all face on the public highway. Lets get these vehicles out and about as they should even working less than desired reduce the number of premature deaths as they will be "safer than humans."
Peter City of Westminster

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+1

John
The UK and Europe will sell their no-longer-required car production lines to the middle east and third world countries. Just like they have done for the past 50 years or more.
Guzzi, Newport

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+5

I appreciate that the forum is Road Safety GB but do any of these individuals or organisations promoting autonomous vehicles ever consider or discuss how the developing world will enjoy the benefits?

It would seem that when ever you read about autonomous vehicles it refers the the US or Europe.

Last time I checked the majority of fatalities do not occur in these countries they occur in countries with poor infrastructure and technology.

What will happen to such countries when traditional car production presumably ceases?
John

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+4

This determination to seemingly one day impose autonomous vehicles on those of us who enjoy driving ourselves, is a bit like introducing self-playing musical instruments to an orchestra in the naive and mistaken belief that the musicians would want that.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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+3

Rod
That is one version of a Utopian vision and a genuinely worthy one in some respects for the greater good, even if it is a bit "clinical". But I still frequently ride and drive for enjoyment on mainly empty rural roads that rarely if ever see public transport. So I hope you will understand that yours is not a vision I will be signing up to any time soon. Long live freedom of choice and independent travel.
Pat, Wales

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+8

Charles

I believe that the idea of autonomous cars simply copying the same movements of current self-owned cars is flawed. I suspect that the real change will come from maximising the efficiency of autonomous mini-buses by picking up en-route passengers. By dynamically re-routing to collect new passengers then you can get far greater passenger to vehicle ratios and hence have a far smaller load on the road network.

You only have to look at the typical one person per car scenario in for commuting to realise how wasteful it is in using road capacity.

And with fewer vehicles that are all far more compliant in following road rules then this will provide a great benefit for vulnerable road users which in turn will enable active travel to be increased and provide even better utilisation of those public spaces between buildingsthat we call roads.
Rod King, Warrington - 20's Plenty for Us

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-5

Better than that Nick, I picture an autonomous vehicle driving a route I am very familiar with and wonder how it would cope with the variations in road characteristics and would it always adopt best practice based on experience - i.e. can they 'learn' from repeated driving over the same routes? If a warning sign was obscured, would it remember from last time - as humans might - that there was a hazard up ahead, or does it take it as it finds it each time? So many questions! At the end of the day, they're still only as good as the programmers are.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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+3

Hugh, I really do recommend that you do a search on the internet to see what trials have been carried out so far over the past few years regarding vehicles on "real roads" both in the US and Europe. You may then understand how Chris Grayling can make such statements. It will not be the technology that holds this up - it will be political/societal acceptance.
Nick, Lancashire

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+6

That's not really what I meant Nick. It's just that air and sea craft are not moving around within a cluttered environment like road users, where other users may be unpredictable and where there is little or no margin (in physical terms) for error.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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+1

Hugh, no they wouldn't due to the properties and behaviours (not humanly controllable - yet?) of the air and water through which they are moving. Vehicles on "tarmac" can be moving much closer to each other as the friction between the tyres and the road surface is generally not overcome by gusts of wind or water currents. Each mode of travel has its own peculiar characteristics which need to be overcome.
NIck, Lancashire

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+5

The thing is though Nick, would automated air and sea travel still work if the moving craft routinely mingled within a couple of metres of each other?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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+5

Until we can all go out and buy a fully autonomous car, more road safety effort should be put into tackling one of the biggest problems, driver error. Our roads are still being engineered to a rule book from the middle of the last century and as a result people are dying every year in the same accidents. The driverless car might also find it useful if the direction of travel is clearly marked on road surfaces. There are a lot of ways the technology behind the driverless car project could be making our roads safer today for all road users.
Derek Hertfordshire

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+4

After visiting an air traffic control tower last night and watched planes landing/taking off without human intervention together with reading about large ships sailing around the seas whilst "driving themselves" then I for one am convinced that Mr Grayling is right to predict that such technology on the roads is coming. Not sure about the date - that is up to others to arrange.

"Driverless" taxis are apparently driving around the US now courtesy of Google's owners. Try reading this information to see what some of the thought processes are https://www.rand.org/blog/articles/2017/11/why-waiting-for-perfect-autonomous-vehicles-may-cost-lives.html

Saw a delivery "drone vehicle" in London two weeks ago. Mind you it was sat motionless on the tactile paving at a road crossing!
Nick, Lancashire

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+6

Rod, roads aren't built for storing vehicles on, they are built to let vehicles make journeys to places. Or do you think we should cap our national road mileage at the current miles per vehicle ratio and not allow new homes, businesses or other enterprises to be connected and not allow the road network to be developed until we increase the size of the national vehicle fleet?
Charles, England

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+10

Chris Grayling says :-
"Connected and autonomous taxis could deliver the same number of trips with just 10% of the vehicles, he said, and an autonomous car fleet ‘could reduce delays by 40% on the strategic road network, and 30% in urban areas’."

So why is he building more roads for fewer vehicles?
Rod King, Warrington - 20's Plenty for Us

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-7

Peter City of Westminster quoted that - "Having consulted widely, we are creating a new compulsory insurance framework that covers motorists when they are driving, and when the driver has legitimately handed control to the vehicle."

Well that will be good when at the moment bringing a vehicle of SORN by first insuring it then trying to Tax it takes - in my case - twelve days - twelve days I paid for insurance but could not use the vehicle on the road - because a database is not updated in real time which I assume this quote is talking about - real time - .... that is going to cost!
Trevor Baird - Relaxing in France

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+7

The Level 5 autonomous vehicles of which Mr Grayling speaks are not going to be here by 2021. We will see increasing levels of autonomy, but the car that never needs any assistance from a human is still some long way off. I hope I live long enough to witness what happens to Mr Grayling's autonomous fleet after a slight snow shower, or a flooded road.
David, Suffolk

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+9

Peter, your point about school patrols raises an interesting possibility. Following the introduction of autonomous vehicles I think the tables could be turned, and it will be motor vehicle crossing patrols that will be required. Imagine what will happen outside schools when all cars automatically stop for pedestrians trying to cross the road. There will be an hour's window (or whatever) during which there is a non-stop flow of children arriving for school and when no vehicle progress will be possible at all, because the vehicle systems won't allow them to proceed whilst pedestrians are crossing. This will result in total gridlock, and one solution might be to deploy a human lollipop person to stop pedestrians from crossing the road to allow motor traffic to make some progress!
Charles, England

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+8

Given that the overwhelming majority of crashes is caused by human error, it is comforting to know that no humans will be involved in the development and programming of autonomous vehicles.
David, Suffolk

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+13

Surely human error is A factor in the 85 %, not THE factor or even necessarily the main factor?
Pat,wales

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+7

More puzzling to me is who, or what, is responsible for the 15% of UK road incidents which Mr Grayling believes, are not down to human error?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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+4

The following is a question I considered asking at the QT at RSGB Conference next week.
If as we are told human error makes up the vast majority of causes of collisions is the government right in putting all their eggs into the autonomous vehicles projects at the expense of the traditional three Es which have lost funding, resources and staff? It seems I no longer need to ask as Mr Grayling has preempted my concerns. He is putting the economy as his priority.

The full transcript has the following."Having consulted widely, we are creating a new compulsory insurance framework that covers motorists when they are driving, and when the driver has legitimately handed control to the vehicle." Does this imply that there will be times when the driver is in charge? If so will the ABI be insuring people who currently cannot drive to be drivers? Maybe they did not hear that bit.

I accept that last mile journeys and in towns with the appropriate smart street furniture that connects with the vehicles who are all talking to each other, could be safer but as Charles has stated pedestrians and cyclists will be able to take advantage of the fail-safe tech and these autonomous vehicles will be stop start and therefore slow. Hopefully someone will add into the computer the recognition of the road signs and markings so that these vehicles will be totally regulation compliant. Imagine if you will a school crossing patrol who can actually stop traffic.
Peter City of Westminster

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+13

Charles, just be sure when you try that you step out in front of an autonomous vehicle, not an old tech vehicle like mine and tens of millions of others that will still be on the road in 20 years time.
Pat, Wales

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+17

I found Chris Grayling's remarks very interesting. He seems to be confirming my long held belief that, despite more than a century of traffic engineering, we still have not managed to produce a road system model that is fit for purpose. In fact his remarks confirm to me that our road system is so intolerant of human nature - the defining characteristic of its intended users - that it is responsible for the more than 85% of road incidents that occur because adequate tolerance of inevitable human error has not been designed in.

Luckily though for our road users (and for the traffic engineers), it appears that human users are, in due course, going to be replaced by automatons (in the guise of self-driving cars), the user type for which our road system is currently optimised.

However, the foolproof collision avoidance abilities built into self-driving cars may well be accompanied by certain unintended consequences. One of which might be the rolling back of the oppressive effect of a century of "traffic engineering" on the life of the hapless pedestrian. It could be that pedestrians will again be able to assert their right to equal priority on the public road by taking advantage of the fail-safe systems built into such vehicles, which will slow and, if necessary, stop, to allow pedestrians to cross roads when and where they want.
Charles, England

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