The Truth Behind Driverless Lorries
There has been a lot of very lively debate over the last couple of years, all centred around one thing. The driverless car appears to be a sign that that modern, space aged future we see in films has finally arrived, where we can start lying back as machines do all the hard work for us. But while many people are excited about these new forms of transport, many more people are sceptical, insisting they are in fact and accident waiting to happen. But progress is not to be halted, and with Google assisting in the design for regulations of driverless cars and trials of driverless lorries being carried out across the UK, it's time to look at the pro's and con's of the driverless future.
Let's start with the positives. Driverless cars could be an absolute blessing for commuters, who spend hours of their lives behind the wheel in order to get to and from their desks. The average driver in the UK spends 235 hours a year driving, which adds up to around 6 weeks. That's 6 weeks of your life spent staring at brake lights and not doing the things you love. But with a driverless car, you can take back control of your time and spend it more productively - whether that's dong work in your car, taking up a hobby or just catching up on some sleep. It would also make the road safer, as driverless cars are carefully programmed to follow speed limits, pull over for emergency vehicles and avoid collisions. In fact, scientists have predicted that is 90% of the cars on the road were driverless, the number of road accidents would fall from 6 million a year to 1.3, with fatalities falling from 33,000 to 11,300 per year.
For HGV's, it's a slightly different story. In Germany, they have been testing and trialling the driverless lorry, resulting in nothing but praise. 'It never gets tired, it never loses concentration or focus. No matter how well you accelerate, slow down or steer a truck you can never do it as good as the highway pilot can'. Results from these trails indicate that driverless lorries could indeed make our roads safer, cutting down some of the 300 annual lorry accident fatalities and lowering pollution, while even potentially speeding up deliveries.
Of course, not having a human driver in control behind the wheel does have some fairly hefty risks. Since the first driverless cars were launched for testing there have been a few 'teething problems', usually resulting in scrapes, dings and minor road traffic accidents. In fact, in late 2015 many motorists would make a point of slamming into driverless cars when they saw one in order to highlight their biggest flaw - they obey the law at all times. Which of course, human drivers do not. Human drivers speed, run red lights, drive tired, swerve and forget to pay attention. A lot of the time, this is kept in balance because a lot of other people on the road are doing the same, but the simple fact is that humans cause accidents. So many driverless cars who were obeying the speed limits to the digit were being driven into by drivers who are used to going 35 in that 30 and weren't expecting to come across a cautious driverless car. There have even been incidents of a driverless car being pulled over by the police for going 24mph in a 35 and causing traffic - something most human motorists have never been guilty of.
And then last year, the progress of driverless cars took a very large hit. In May 2016 the first casualty of a self-driving car was reported. Josh Brown (40) was travelling in a Tesla S model in 'autopilot' mode when the sensor software failed to distinguish between the sky and a white lorry, sending the car hurtling into the lorry at full speed. The car went under the lorry and the top was ripped off, killing Josh. This accident has the entire industry questioning what this fatal crash could mean for the path of driverless cars.
Of course, we are still looking at the infancy of this industry, and there are a lot of alternatives and changes that can be made to make them safer, particularly when it comes to HGVs. For example, Samsung are currently piloting an idea to put video walls on the back of HGV's to broadcast lane traffic around the vehicle, but for the most part we are still a long way off. But this is definitely an area to watch, as it should spawn some very interesting things.