Driverless cars to hit UK motorways: Safety fears for motorcyclists as road trials planned for 2023

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Real-life on-the-road tests of self-driving vehicles are due to begin in the UK next year, sparking fears that they could put riders in danger.

According to the Department for Transport, we could see vehicles, including cars, coaches and lorries, with self-driving features using motorways in the New Year, with a wider roll out going ahead by 2025.

This is thanks to a Government plan underscored by a £100 million investment, which officials claim could create thousands of new jobs in the motor industry.

Autonomous cars use radar and cameras to survey the road ahead

Autonomous vehicles have been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last couple of years, specifically the horror headlines where cars have struck stationary motorcyclists and pedestrians.

The Government is set to outline the safety targets autonomous vehicles must reach before being let loose on motorways next year; targets that will be critical to the welfare of other road users.

Back on August 19 of this year, the then Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “The benefits of self-driving vehicles have the potential to be huge. Not only can they improve people’s access to education and other vital services, but the industry itself can create tens of thousands of jobs throughout the country.

Motorcycles have been mistaken by autopilot systems

“Most importantly, they’re expected to make our roads safer by reducing the dangers of driver error in road collisions,” he added.

“We want the UK to be at the forefront of developing and using this fantastic technology, and that is why we are investing millions in research into safety… to ensure we gain the benefits this technology promises.”

But bikers’ rights groups are sceptical, with the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) closely monitoring safety targets as the wording by the Government calls for autonomous vehicles to “achieve an equivalent level of safety to that of a competent and careful human driver”.  MAG believe this is an arbitrary measure.

New technology could make bikes more visible to radar systems

The Government recently concluded a public consultation on the concerns drivers have regarding their use and MAG want to ensure motorcyclists have a significant say.

Colin Brown, MAG Director of Campaigns, said: “Who gets to decide what is a safe and competent human driver? We basically said that is a daft way of looking at it. If it is anywhere close to the average standard, then that isn’t good enough as far as we are concerned.

“Our position is they have to come up with a data-based way of doing it. It is not beyond the wit of man to do large amounts of data gathering and if we can see statistically these things are hitting a certain safety level, then surely that is a way to do it.”

Driverless car radar tech

The AA have also flagged up concerns, with president Edmund King saying: “It is quite a big leap from assisted driving, where the driver is still in control, to self-driving, where the car takes control.

“It is important that the Government does study how these vehicles interact with other road users on different roads and changing conditions.

“However the ultimate prize, in terms of saving thousands of lives and improving the mobility of the elderly and the less mobile, is worth pursuing.”

As yet there is no date fixed for the road trials to commence.