Driverless cars offer a way to reclaim wasted driving hours and the tedious chore of searching for a parking space. It has the added benefit of being hailed as important as seatbelts, in the fight for road safety.
The transport model based on the self-driven car, first popularised by Henry Ford’s Model T, has survived largely intact for more than a century. Within 20 years, that world could be swept away. Fully-driverless vehicles, and the digital technologies to which they connect, are posed to redefine the whole way we use our roads and the vehicles on them.
The potential benefits of self-driving vehicles – go well beyond saving time and improving safety for individual travellers. Given an innovative and disruptive set of new business models, this emerging technology could also generate substantial improvements in urban congestion, pollution and public health – providing a major boost for public policy goals. There are big potential wins for travellers in the shape of lower costs and greater convenience.
Earlier this year, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee called air pollution a “public health emergency”, blaming it for economic costs of £15-20bn and the deaths of 40-50,000 people every year. Congestion also creates drag on the UK economy, with the annual bill estimated to reach £22bn to £24bn by 2025-2030.
However, to realise the benefits we need to rethink our system of individual car ownership and look towards a more bespoke rental one.
Customers would manage their vehicle using a smartphone app; this too provides opportunities to improve the system’s convenience and flexibility.
The challenge for transport providers and public authorities is to ensure fully-automated cars both benefit individual travellers and help us address some of our most pressing transport problems. The technologies will soon be with us, let’s make sure we get the best out of them.
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