Why AI Self-Driving Technology Is Not Mainstream Yet

Amidst the rising price of fuel and nationwide zero-emission targets, switching from a petrol or diesel-powered car to an EV has never been a more attractive option for UK road users. Transformative planned changes to legislation are set to open up the doors for self-driving cars and level the legislative playing field for drivers, with a rollout expected by 2025. So, why are self-driving technologies in new vehicles still not legal, and when can we expect these proposed changes to come into force? In this article, we’ll take a look at the legality and potential dangers these new vehicles pose to society but also highlight the benefits they can add to people’s lives.

The legality of self-driving vehicles: Although self-driving cars may still not be legal in the UK and other countries, this is likely to change within the near future. In April 2022, the government confirmed that changes will be made to The Highway Code which will codify the legalities of a driver’s responsibility when using a self-driving vehicle. In August of the same year, the government also announced a roll-out of self-driving vehicles on the roads by 2025. According to the planned changes in legislation, human drivers will not be liable for accidents that occur when a self-driving vehicle is in control, but rather the manufacturers will take responsibility and be liable to pay out compensation for any accident or injury claims made by the affected parties; just as other drivers would be liable in the event of careless driving.

The most dramatic change may come to the truck industry which may soon become automated due to this technology. Many companies around the world are scrambling to roll out self-driving trucks as soon as possible due to the massive cost-saving potential they could offer.

Pros and cons of EV technology: As the UK races ever closer towards its zero emissions target and the legislative changes related to vehicle autonomy come into effect, electric vehicles (EVs) have become an increasingly attractive option for road users in the UK. The most obvious natural benefit of driving an EV as opposed to a petrol or diesel-powered motor is the fact that EVs use a ‘closed loop’ system that doesn’t produce any waste or emissions. Other benefits include buying incentives (such as the UK government’s Plug-In Car Grant), tax benefits and relatively low running costs. As the tech is still in development, there are some disadvantages to owning EVs as they exist today - these include slow charging times, limited battery range and a relatively high price for the initial purchase. And while you’ll benefit from tax breaks as an EV driver, you’ll still be required to book MOTs online and have other paperwork to drive on the roads.  

Potential dangers: Because self-driving vehicles must be able to reliably and safely perform an array of complex problem-solving and decision-making processes, there are still plenty of potential dangers posed by their use. Tesla’s Autopilot mode has already had numerous infamous incidents in the press, including some fatal accidents. A recent infamous example is from a German driver who switched his Tesla on autopilot while cruising on the motorway and ended up being chased by 15 police cars. Tesla drivers will point out that the autopilot system does not allow drivers to let go of the wheel for more than a few seconds at a time, and they would be right, however, this driver had attached a piece of weight on his steering wheel making the system think he was in control of the steering.

Other common problems with self-driving cars include misreading road signs (and misinterpreting coloured objects as road signs and traffic lights), failing to interpret some obstructions, improper environmental response, and navigational issues.

Although it’s safe to say the technology is far from perfect from a safety and legal perspective, it’s important to take into account that this technology has only been made commercial for less than a decade and has improved dramatically in that short amount of time. As the technology improves and more of these vehicles are rolled out across the UK, it’s likely that we’ll see manufacturers correct these potentially dangerous issues.