The government recently announced proposals for self-driving vehicles to be on the roads as soon as next year and is introducing the new Road Safety Investigation Branch to help understand the impact of autonomous technology on road safety

United Kingdon – The government recently outlined its plans for self-driving vehicles to be rolled out on UK roads from 2025, with some vehicles with self-driving features operating on motorways as soon as next year.

IAM RoadSmart has urged the House of Commons Transport Committee to make sure that autonomous vehicles do not negatively impact road safety or impose restrictions on drivers. The main concern for road safety is the level of knowledge and experience of current UK motorists. Most road users currently have no direct experience of self-driving vehicle technology, and assumptions about the vehicles’ safety are not based on real-world testing on UK roads.

Research conducted by IAM RoadSmart, in collaboration with Southampton University, shows that there could be an over-reliance on self-driving technology, particularly when control is switched between the vehicle and the driver. However, coaching was clearly shown to deliver safer drivers in simulator studies. The charity has urged car makers and the government to educate drivers about the capabilities of the technology, to help them understand that they still must pay attention, and appreciate how different types of road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcycles, will interact with autonomous systems.

Neil Greig, Policy and Research Director at IAM RoadSmart, said: “We support the government’s intention to make the UK a world leader in driverless technology, but there is a critical need to train drivers in the new skills they will need to safely control increasingly autonomous cars. Research shows clearly that drivers who know what to expect if an autonomous car suddenly hands back control are better able to deal with the situation calmly and safely. It is vital that the government works with the DVSA and training providers, such as IAM RoadSmart, to develop new resources to educate drivers.

“Thankfully, people are moving away from the assumption that self-driving cars will remove the 90 percent of collisions allegedly caused by human error. With further research, we can understand all the factors that may play a part in future collisions.”

The new Road Safety Investigation Branch (RSIB) will go some way to addressing these concerns, and evaluating the safety performance of self-driving cars should be a top priority for the branch. The independent RSIB will learn lessons from road collisions and autonomous technology, carrying out investigations, evaluating safety trends, and ensuring road safety policy is fit for purpose.

Neil added: “We welcome the establishment of the RSIB, and its intent to monitor the impact of automation on road safety. It will be best placed to provide strategic insights, but investigations must be fully funded to ensure the right expertise is recruited and key findings can be shared.

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