Driverless cars will be tested on public roads by the end of 2013, says the UK government.
So far, UK trials of the autonomous vehicles have taken place only on private land.
Driverless cars are guided by a system of sensors and cameras and are seen as potentially safer and more efficient than regular vehicles.
Internet giant Google have been at the forefront of the technology but now many leading car makers including Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, Audi and Volvo are currently developing their own systems, which rely largely on a combination of GPS, cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors.
However, the visual sensors and cameras rely on having good visible road markings and signs, especially at night. We will have to wait and see how effective these systems are on British roads as much of the network according to the RSMA’s (Road Safety Markings Association) recent survey is well below the specified standard.
Reportedly, most vehicle accidents occur due to driver error.
However, unless road marking standards are improved to allow this new technology to function as intended, accident responsibility may be challenged.
Inconsistency, throughout the network is another obstacle that will restrict the effectiveness of the system.
A recent road safety article in the RSMA’s ‘Top Marks’ magazine* entitled; ‘ERF at the forefront of improving road safety in Europe’ indicates the growing importance of a well maintained road infrastructure. The article notices this;
‘The European Union Road Federation (ERF) has initiated a very promising cooperation with the European Road Assessment Programme and the European Association of Vehicle Manufacturers on the concept of the ‘Roads that Cars can Read’.
Recognising the importance of a well-maintained road infrastructure for the effective operation of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) EuroRAP and EuroNCAP launched a consultation in 2011 on this topic. In a nutshell, the two reputable consumer associations warned that, unless core elements of the road (e.g. road markings and signs) were properly maintained by road authorities, drivers would largely fail to reap the large safety benefits anticipated from the wider use of the Intelligent Vehicle Systems such as Lane Departure Warning Systems and Lane Keep Assistance’.
The article goes on to say,
‘While again the output report of the working group has not yet been finalised, preliminary conclusions are likely to include the greater use of wet-night visible markings that are visible both to the human eye and the car.
The final report of the ‘Roads that Cars can Read’ Working Group is expected to be published by October 2013 and ERF has already been invited to present the results at a high-level conference to be organised by the FIA in November 2013’.
If driverless vehicles are to become a common sight on the UK’s highway network then Government, Councils and Highway Organisations will need to invest in the maintenance of highway line marking on Britain’s roads, something that has been sadly lacking during the last decade or so.
The advantages are obvious with the automation of a highway network with driverless cars promising reduced congestion, reduced travel time, fewer accidents and reduced environmental impact.
The investment in the infrastructure must come, and come quickly, if the UK is to be at the forefront in the use of this technology and take advantage of the huge benefits it offers.
However, time is short, as some variants of this automated technology have already been finding their way into cars on the road with lane detection, vehicle speed and distance monitoring systems.
Some top end luxury cars are available with automatic systems intended for use on motorways that can be programmed to maintain a set speed, brake and accelerate to the set speed as needed, whilst autonomously steering to stay in lane, completely automatically without any input from the driver.
Driverless vehicles offering full automation and true door to door service is closer than you may think.
Tobias Lotz, Development Engineer, Ford will be presenting on Driver Assistance Technologies at this year's annual RSMA conference on 14th November at Eastwood Hall, Nottingham.
*Excerpts reproduced with kind permission from the RSMA.