Scotland’s Autonomous Vehicle Highways
Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, has suggested that plans are underway to expand Scotland’s road network capacity to increase the number of autonomous vehicles.
“Scotland’s autonomous vehicle highways” sounds like something from a sci-fi vision of the future, however self-driving vehicles could soon be a common feature on Scottish roads after Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, is looking into the possibility of autonomous highways to increase economic productivity.
As part of on-going upgrades to existing Scottish highways, Yousaf would like to explore the idea of expanding the capacity of existing road networks to cope with a future influx of self-driving vehicles. He also added that the government is exploring the possibility of introducing dedicated autonomous highways for freight and haulage purposes; potentially revolutionising Scottish trade and economic productivity.
The introduction of autonomous cars and haulage vehicles onto Scottish roads could revolutionise not only the way we travel, but the way goods and products are transported across the nation.
Revolutionising our Road Networks
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on March 15th, Yousaf insisted that Scotland should make all necessary plans to accommodate for driverless vehicles, else risk being left behind. He said it is “better that Scotland is in the automated driving seat and ahead of the curve, as opposed to lagging behind.”
He added that “according to research that was commissioned by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, connected and autonomous vehicles could bring wide economic benefits, including an estimated £51 billion a year and more than 320,000 jobs by 2030.”
Regardless of the exact numbers surrounding the benefits of autonomous vehicles, one thing can be for sure; the Scottish economy and people will likely benefit from the increased revenue and job growth that autonomous vehicles will bring.
Work is set to begin within the next few years, and upcoming projects – such as the conversion of the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness to a dual-carriageway – will look to accommodate autonomous vehicles. Additionally, work on the Maybole and Dalry bypass and upgrades to Edinburgh’s Sheriffhall roundabout will also ensure the capacity for autonomous vehicles is adequate.
Digital connectivity on Scottish roads will be a crucial factor in any future involving self-driving vehicles, however, and Yousaf said that ensuring vehicles have access to geo-location tools on the country’s roads is critical.
In Autumn, Yousaf says he plans to host a summit on the issue; bringing together transport experts, construction companies and car-makers to discuss the benefits of autonomous vehicles on Scottish roads. He said:
“I am committed to holding a connected and autonomous vehicle demonstration summit in 2018, which will showcase international developments and explore with the transport industry how Scotland can best position itself to realise the benefits.”
“At the summit, we will be seeking the opportunity to support a trial, which will potentially be with the freight and logistics sectors.”
Dr Alastair McInroy, Senior Programme Manager at MaaS Scotland, told DIGIT: “Autonomous vehicles have the potential to completely reshape the way we consume transport services. Car ownership patterns already changing, driven by the sharing economy and the emergence of models such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Autonomous shared vehicles will provide a key link in the integration of these multi-modal services, offering cheaper and more efficient transport solutions for all of us.
“MaaS Scotland welcomes the Minister’s commitment to hold a summit on connected and autonomous vehicles in 2018. The creation of demonstrator trials in Scotland will also offer a fantastic opportunity to integrate successful outcomes with MaaS projects currently ongoing across Scotland.”
Concerns Over Safety
There have been recent concerns worldwide over the reliability and safety of autonomous vehicles. In Arizona last month, Uber was prohibited from carrying out further tests of its’ vehicles after a pedestrian was struck and killed by one of their test cars.
Industry representatives say that as the technology improves and develops, so will the reaction times and effectiveness of the vehicles; thus improving road safety. In Beijing, autonomous vehicle pilot schemes are underway as the country looks to lead the way on driverless vehicle tech, and Scotland could soon follow suit.
Although plans for pilot schemes in Scotland are still in their infancy, Yousaf suggested we could see self-driving cars and haulage vehicles on our road networks very soon:
“We are in discussion with the centre for connected and autonomous vehicles, Scottish Enterprise and many others, about how we can facilitate trials, demonstration projects and pilots in Scotland.”
He added: “A number of members have suggested where in their constituencies or regions those trials could take place, and they should continue to pass those ideas to us.”
Ensuring public confidence in Scotland’s self-driving vehicle schemes will be essential as the nation looks to develop its extensive road networks. Yousaf, however, suggested that autonomous vehicles on Scottish roads could improve road safety by partially eliminating human error – which is a leading cause of accidents – from the equation.
He said: “A number of statistics have been produced, ranging from human error being a factor in 85% of all reported vehicular incidents through to its being a factor in 95% of such incidents.
“Whatever statistic we use, we can agree that the vast majority of road accidents are down to human error.”