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After the smart motorway safety scare, is the UK really ready for self-driving cars?

Since the introduction of smart motorways in 2014 there have been significant safety concerns. Is now really the time for self-driving cars?

On April 28, it was announced that self-driving cars would be allowed on British roads by the end of the year. What might once have sounded like futuristic fancy could soon become a reality; though that reality might not be as pleasant as the vision of a model motorized metropolis would have you believe.

The concept of the self-driving car has come under renewed scrutiny only recently, especially following Consumer Reports’ claim that had managed to make a Tesla drive without anyone in the driving seat, despite assurances to the contrary by Tesla. With these cars actually on the road now, such things are not of mere theoretical importance; the BBC report that local police believe nobody was in the driving seat of a Tesla involved in a collision that caused two fatalities.

On top of that, the UK has a pre-existing automobile scare on its hands at the moment: smart motorways. Introduced in 2014, the idea was to cut congestion by opening the hard shoulder to traffic; however the concept has not always worked so well in practice, with some drivers failing to follow the signage; the mere idea of being broken down in the middle of the motorway with nowhere to find refuge is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Following widespread and impassioned concerns, the government has bowed to public opinion and announced that no new smart motorways will be built unless they add radar technology to detect stopped cars as soon as possible.

For now, the two problems won’t be compounded; self-driving cars will only permitted to have a maximum speed limit of 37mph, making them unsuitable for motorway driving.

It’s worth noting that for both self-driving cars and smart motorways, proponents can offer an armful of statistics arguing that in fact they are both safer than the tried and tested alternatives. But if these two projects are to move forward for the benefit of all of us then it is important that they are proven and shown to the public to be foolproof beyond the realm of reasonable doubt, because it’s crucial not only that motorists are more physically secure, but also that they have peace of mind when driving day to day.

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