Driverless cars may have a more negative impact on congestion than is usually assumed, the chairman of a key Lords committee has told Transport Network.
It comes as the Lords Science and Technology Committee argued that the Government should focus its support for the development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) on their real world impacts, including those on the transport network.
A new report from the committee says the Government has focused too heavily on research problems and testing technologies for highly automated vehicles with ‘inadequate effort on thinking about deployment’.
The report says that while the impact on congestion cannot be predicted with any certainty, ‘it is possible to imagine a situation of total gridlock as CAV crawl around city centres’.
Committee chair Lord Selborne told Transport Network: ‘Many people think that this is going to reduce congestion. That wasn’t entirely clear to us why that should be.’
He added: ‘It might be but you’re going to have to policies in place to discourage people, for example, from getting delivered to their office and then leaving their autonomous vehicle cruising around till they need it again, which would be disastrous.’
The committee heard evidence that CAV have the potential to lower the number of road fatalities, but the eradication of human error will only be realised with full automation, which could take decades.
It warned that autonomous cars could have negative implications for drivers' competence, making them complacent and overly reliant on technology
The committee said it heard evidence that realising the full benefits of CAV on the UK’s roads is likely to require new road and communications infrastructure and an improvement in mobile phone coverage on UK roads.
Its report recommends that the Government take action with Highways England and local transport authorities ‘to engage with industry to examine the potential for ensuring that new infrastructure can be future-proofed and will not need expensive retro-fitting’.
The committee also argues that the Government has been too focused on road CAV while early benefits are likely to come in sectors such as marine and agriculture.
It found that there is no clear central coordination of strategy or information sharing across the different sectors that could benefit from CAV technology, or robotics more broadly.
The committee recommends that the Government take steps to ensure that expertise and knowledge is shared across sectors, including the establishment of a Robotics and Autonomous Systems Leadership Council as soon as possible to play a key role in developing the strategy for CAV.