The Scottish Government is looking to catch up with its southern neighbour in the race to get self-driving cars on the road.
England began experimenting with Autonomous Vehicles (AV) three years ago and recently, the UK government launched a new £30 million fund to support its Industrial Strategy, which aims to secure the UK’s position as the leading location in Europe in the public testing of AVs.
Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, has just announced that Scottish AV road trials are expected to take place later this year following a demonstration summit. He told MSPs that the trials could be with the freight and logistics sectors and therefore may include vans and lorries.
Early in the year, Yousaf has suggested that plans are underway to prepare and expand Scotland’s road network to cope with the future influx of self-driving vehicles. The Scottish Government is also exploring the possibility of dedicated autonomous highways for freight and haulage purposes.
A Spokesman for Transport Scotland said:
“The minister was illustrating a sector that could potentially benefit from autonomous vehicles (AVs) in creating a more efficient road network. The summit will explore other areas that could also benefit, and narrow down what Scotland would most like to learn from a pilot.”
“Trials of automated technologies are possible in Scotland today, as it is across the UK, providing a test driver is present and takes responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle – and that the vehicle can be used compatibly with road traffic law. We are keen to explore how we can facilitate trials and pilots in Scotland. The summit is the first step on that journey.”
Potential Benefits and Pitfalls
Self-driving cars have the potential to reduce the number of traffic collisions and make travel easier for those who cannot drive. However, concerns have been raised that driverless cars may encourage people to take more car trips rather than cycle or travel by foot, resulting in an increased cost of road maintenance and emissions.
Neil Greig, Director of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart, said: “Real-world trials are the best way to introduce Scots to the benefits and pitfalls of AVs. Administratively it should be simpler here with one government, one police force, fewer authorities and many world-famous companies and universities.”
“What we lack in a home-grown motor industry we can more than make up for by offering extreme weather and some very congested motorways and cities to test AVs to the limit. The research priorities should be around public acceptability and the safe handover of control between humans and machines.”
“More and more evidence is emerging that any system that retains any element of human intervention cannot deliver the huge safety benefits we have been promised.”