‘I like driving in my car, it’s not quite a Jaguar” sang Madness in 1982 – a 33-year-old song destined to sound like a historical artefact in 33 years’ time, in 2048 when it will have been rendered unintelligible to many. That’s because, by then, “driving”, as we presently understand it, will have been consigned to the scrapyard of history.
The most recent Budget included £100m in grants to match industry funding for research into driverless cars and the Department for Transport is already helping fund test centres. Our government is intent on steering us down a driverless route. The fact that the market for autonomous vehicles is estimated to be worth £900bn by 2025 might explain why.
A recent McKinsey study predicts that the driverless car will have become mainstream between 2020 and 2040 and could dominate the industry by 2050. As a disruptive technology, the proliferation of driverless cars will have a profound impact on many other economic sectors and on many aspects of our daily lives.
Many driving laws and regulations will be rendered redundant (we will be able to drink in our cars, as well as text, phone and watch TV).
And the motor insurance industry will have to reinvent itself – how can a passenger of a driverless vehicle, even if he is sitting in the “driver’s” seat, be held liable for an accident?
The distribution sector will be one of the first to change – it is easy to discern the advantage of distributing goods up and down the country in driverless trucks that don’t risk falling asleep at the wheel and don’t make unscheduled stops at transport cafes. Indeed, the advent of automated trucks will signal the end of things “falling off the back of a lorry”.
Yet, the road to fully autonomous vehicles is unlikely to be straight and clear of obstacles. A computer glitch in a driverless car could have fatal consequences. Whilst 90 per cent of all car accidents are caused by human error, concerns remain about the security of automated vehicles.
Still, given the size of the prize, governments will likely continue to fund research to accelerate us down the road to autonomy. Some might regard that as an exciting future, but many drivers might call it madness.
Graham McCarthy works at finance broker First Vehicle Leasing.