Motoring of the future

Evidence from Oliver Carsten, Professor of Transport Safety, has been extensively cited in a major new report published by the House of Commons Transport Committee.

Informed directly by Professor Carsten and other prominent contributors, the Motoring of the Future report calls for the UK Department for Transport to set out a comprehensive strategy to link the introduction of autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies to the achievement of stated policy goals.  In wide-ranging written and oral evidence to the inquiry from which the report is published, Professor Carsten advised the committee on several key issues, including: 

Policy Goals and role of Government

Professor Carsten indicated that the Government was in a reactive rather than proactive mode: they are not identifying the big issues in advance; they are not mapping out a strategy for exploiting the technologies to meet policy goals, and that is what we really desperately need. We know what the policy goals are: lower emissions, better travel times, fewer crashes, less congestion in the network and all of that. What we need to be doing is taking a long-term view of how best we can take advantage of the technologies, and harness them to achieve those goals. 

Autonomous Vehicles and Co-operative Technologies

Professor Carsten pointed to the need for controlled, structured trials - The Government has rather belatedly woken up to the promise of automated driving. But … I am not aware of any attempt to consult the research community about the safety challenges that need to be overcome in order to deliver safe automated driving. The focus is more on showcase demonstrations than on serious research. He added that the European Commission has acknowledged that with co-operative systems “the real bottleneck seems to be in deployment”, and that it was “reasonable to be sceptical about the case for moving ahead now with expensive co-operative technologies that are of unproven benefit” but that “such systems should not be rejected wholesale”. He stated that “there has been no attempt to look systematically at how co-operative systems could be exploited to provide better management of the road network and no strategy has been put in place to deploy and exploit these systems.” 

Road Safety and Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA)

Professor Carsten explained that the key struggle was with the continual monitoring and evaluation of technology, and developing an understanding of how casualty rates were affected over time by different technologies. He explained that while it was statistically possible to show the safety benefits arising from car impact regulations, it was difficult to do this in relation to other safety approaches. But pointing to research evidence for the predicted safety impact of ISA, which indicated that it could lead to a significant reduction in fatal crashes, said that the fact that the UK had not moved ahead with ISA deployment was “a major missed opportunity for a very substantial improvement in road safety”.

Read the full report and the summary of recommendations.