I read this article on Autonomous Vehicles (AV) with interest because it offered a different perspective on how driverless cars may change the way we live our lives.
It seems to me that the majority of articles written on the subject of AV quite properly focus on the safety features of the AV in terms of the benefit to society in that we all hope that lives will be saved and the number of persons seriously injured on our roads reduced.
However, this article raises an interesting and perhaps overlooked but obvious point of how will AV operate on our current road network.
In particular the article suggests that AV's could travel very fast and very close together. This would pose significant risks to more vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
The article postulates that cities may have to segregate AV traffic from other road users. This would signficantly change how we build our cities and towns. It also raises the question whether across the whole country it is possible in the first place given that space is at such a premium.
The article poses some questions about how cyclists or pedestrians would behave around fast moving close together AV's giving an example of would it be possible for a cyclist to cross a road of continuously moving AV traffic (imagine a pedestrian crossing on a train line - you are the cyclist waiting for the train to pass but it never ends).
The article offers a refreshing new perspective that whilst we all race toward the perfect AV we nevertheless need to reflect on how that vehicle will in practice operate in our streets and how that will influence the more vulnerable road user. To ignore this point, in my view, would have the unintended consequence of increasing road death or serious injury if you are unfortunate to be struck by a fast moving AV in a line of continuous traffic.
Let us hope that the architects of both the AV's and of our roads do some "joined up" thinking to achieve the desired outcome.
Matthew Claxson is a solicitor and a Partner at Moore Blatch who have offices in London, Richmond, Southampton and Lymington. Matthew works on behalf of those who have been bereaved or seriously injured due to road collisions. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or freephone 0800 157 7611 to speak with one of our specialist personal injury lawyers.
A report last month estimated that by 2035 up to 25% of new vehicles sold could be fully autonomous. Humans can be terrible drivers, and many proponents believe AV could reduce the 1.34 million annual global road death toll. But cities have some urgent questions to answer and failure to address the issues raised could see us sleepwalking back into the problems of the 1960s and 70s, where cities became thoroughfares for traffic first … and places for people second.