Lords: Autonomous cars could cause more crashes

Updated: 
Autonomous driving

Driverless cars could cause accidents because motorists will become complacent
behind the wheel, peers have warned.

A House of Lords report claims motorists could fail to react in emergencies while sleeping, reading or answering calls in the drivers' seat of an autonomous car.

It is feared they could become "overly reliant" on the technology, and will "react slowly" if they find themselves in a situation where they need to retake control of the car.

Professor Neville Stanton, a driverless cars expert from Southampton University, said: "As vehicles become fully autonomous, even the most observant human driver's attention will begin to wane. Their mind will wander.

"This is particularly true if they are engaging in other activities."

The report also says research has shown that motorists using autonomous cars aren't as capable of dealing with an emergency as regular drivers are.

It highlighted that in simulated emergencies, up to a third of drivers of automated vehicles were unable to recover the situation, while nearly all regular drivers in the same scenario were able to. It also showed that motorists in autonomous vehicles took, on average, six times longer to respond to emergency braking.

The House of Lords report also voiced concerns over the susceptibility of autonomous cars to attacks from hackers, citing the example of a Tesla Model S that was successfully hacked into from 12 miles away.

Despite the concerns, peers also heard evidence that autonomous cars could reduce the number of accidents by getting rid of human error – a factor responsible for around 95 per cent of incidents.

According to the Association of British Insurers, Volkswagen Golfs equipped with automatic emergency braking technology were involved in 45 per cent fewer claims.

The Earl of the Selborne, chairman of the committee investigating connected and autonomous vehicles claimed that while it is unsure when they will appear on UK roads, the government had an important role in ensuring the required infrastructure was in place.

This includes widespread 4G connectivity, road sensors and dedicated lanes for convoys of autonomous vehicles.

Lord John Roundell Palmer told AOL: "It's everyone's guess when fully autonomous vehicles will be seen on our roads.

"In my own opinion it's at least 20 years away. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be bearing that in mind when we design our roads now, because the roads are going to be still in place in 20 years' time, so we need to understand and anticipate what the requirements will be then.

"We make a plea that the government get together with the highway authorities and the local transport authorities to ensure that everyone is kept up to speed with this fast moving technology," he said.

"The last thing you want is for local authorities to spend money on designing traffic management systems which will be redundant within a short space of time."

The report will now be handed to the government, which is expected to produce a written response within two months. Following the reply, it will then be debated in the chamber of the House of Lords.