The government’s recent naming of three Smart Cities to help develop connected and driverless cars and the associated £9 million investment is a fantastic opportunity for UK plc. But without further government intervention, what has been a good start may fail to deliver.
Uncoordinated development of the technology will lead to incompatible systems and limit the economic and social benefits delivered by a transport system of autonomous vehicles. If government fail to articulate a unified framework of standards, suppliers will lack the confidence to innovate and invest. Government must find the right balance between too much and too little legislation.
Building the right infrastructure is its first challenge. Autonomous vehicles won’t work if their technology doesn’t match up connected car parks or traffic lights, so setting standards at an early stage will provide the basis for all future connected infrastructure.
The government must be prepared to make a significant investment in that infrastructure. Initially this will mean working with mobile operators to deploy 4G to create better communication in – and between – cars.
We also need better road layout and design, particularly during a transition phase when both driven and driverless cars share the road. Currently there is little coherence in investment decisions between Highways England and local and metropolitan transport authorities such as Transport for London. Only the government has the authority to forge a consistent approach by bringing these big agencies together.
Second, the government has a role to play in stimulating public demand for the technology. Although it is unlikely in the short-term, we may reach a tipping point where it makes sense for the government to encourage driverless car uptake via scrappage allowances or similar incentives in order to speed up the transition to autonomous vehicles.
Third, while connected cars are a step towards a completely driverless vehicle, the driver remains ‘in control’ and would remain legally liable. But in a completely autonomous vehicle further down the line, who (or what) would be liable in the event of an accident? The industry needs legislation that offers society clarity around liability.
Fourth, concerns around the storage and use of our personal data is a potential obstacle to greater adoption of autonomous vehicles. Ultimately, we may all have to make some concessions in this regard to reap the benefits of this technology, but is it such a departure? Most of us already share our location data via mobile phones or personal information via social media.
People may be more prepared to sacrifice some privacy in return for services. Insurers using data from telematics boxes in our cars may be able to lower our premiums and the sharing of our location and driving conditions will help agencies to manage traffic flow better. It remains to be seen whether consumers will be willing to trade some of their privacy for benefits.
Developing a single set of development standards will be complex at first, but ultimately no more of a challenge than the creation of health and safety standards. Once these issues have been resolved, we can start to realise the promise of driverless cars.
This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.