Column: Never mind driverless, it's all about connected cars

Driverless cars are on the way - but so are connected vehicles
Driverless cars are on the way - but so are connected vehicles

All the talk may be about the advent of driverless cars, but it seems we are getting ahead of ourselves as we will see ‘connected’ cars on our roads well before everything goes driverless.

The current guestimate is that all cars will be connected by 2025 and 75 per cent will be driverless by 2035.

The motor industry is differentiating between connected and driverless (also called autonomous), with connected vehicles able to communicate with other cars and so called ‘smart’ roads, traffic signals and controls, but also the cloud and possibly pedestrians. By contrast driverless is, as it says, without needing human intervention.

Despite this, there will be a blurring of the lines with connected vehicles having driverless functions such as self-parking or auto-collision with the industry categorising driverless vehicles in levels from zero (no driverless features) to five (no driver presence required).

Few current models go beyond level two (at least two driverless features) and most manufacturers will aim at level four, which is driverless in controlled driverless environments such as smart road systems and urban areas.

The big issue and why many manufacturers are likely to skip level three is getting the driver to re-engage when human intervention is required. Tests have already seen ‘drivers’ completely disengaging in driverless vehicles, literally playing cards or eating pizza, without any real hope of taking control in the event of an emergency.

The driverless industry will argue that the media have overplayed the one death that has occurred with a driverless car so far, despite that millions of test miles have been driven, an infinitely better record than driven vehicles.

However, trust is still a major issue for driverless vehicles, not helped by the lack of public faith in any claims made by the motor industry following the emissions scandal and even with current driverless technology, some feel some manufacturers claims stretch the truth.

In the US where much of the testing is ongoing, there have been numerous attacks on driverless vehicles as ‘nimbys’ object to experimental vehicles in their neighbourhoods.

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What the fatality did highlight was the difficulty driverless technology has dealing with the unpredictable behaviour of pedestrians and one suggested solution is that pedestrians may have to also be controlled in driverless areas and we could see jaywalking become illegal.

Whether it is connected or driverless, one of the key questions relating to insurance is: who will own the vehicle data? It is generally thought that manufacturers will try and keep this in their control and will be reluctant to share, certainly within timeframes needed by insurers. The school of thought is that we will probably have traditional motor cover arranged by the owner or driver until vehicles are completely driverless, especially as vehicles may need to be ‘normally’ driven to a driverless network. Only when they are completely driverless will liability switch to the manufacturers.

So, it seems we will be stuck with motor insurers and their annoying adverts for a few more years.