Driverless vehicles: a hot topic in the press currently and a phrase which is dividing the nation. On the one hand, there are very understandable concerns from the public about road safety. On the other, driverless vehicles may be more fuel efficient – which is good for the environment - and may even improve road safety.
Make no mistake, driverless vehicles are on their way. Next year, fleets of driverless lorries will be trialled on Britain’s motorways. Trials have already been carried out in Europe, America and Australia.
So what impact will they have on the transport industry? Will they help or hinder? Could they mark the end of the sector as we know it, and leave thousands of drivers without work?
As the managing director of a recruitment company, which specialises in placing drivers, you might suppose I fear for the future employment of drivers and a negative knock-on effect on our business.
In fact, I think the opposite. Driverless vehicles present a real opportunity for the transport sector, and one which I think should be embraced.
Advantages of driverless lorries
I’m not advocating the introduction of driverless lorries wholesale across the country. But a careful introduction, on certain roads and at certain times – for example, on major motorways during night hours – could have a beneficial impact.
- There is a huge shortage of lorry drivers. Driverless vehicles would help alleviate this problem in the transport sector.
- They may be more fuel efficient, because they optimise braking and accelerating.
- Safety concerns should be allayed if they are used on dedicated roads – in other words, at certain times set roads are given over to them exclusively, and vehicles driven by people will need to use alternative routes or lanes.
- Unlike lorries with drivers, there will be no need for drivers’ rest breaks, so they can travel for longer periods of time.
It is undoubtedly the case that driverless vehicles can’t be used in every situation. They won’t suit runs with multiple drop-offs, where delivery times need to be factored in, as well as arrangements made for loading/unloading in the absence of a driver. But for a trunk route, with one destination, they could be ideal.
I work closely with the Freight Transport Association, and helped to set up the FTA Driver Agency Accreditation Scheme (DAAS) to improve agency standards; I chair the governance group which runs the scheme. The FTA is one of the UK’s largest trade associations and represents the transport interests of companies moving goods by road, rail, sea and air.
The views in this blog are my own but the FTA looks favourably on the principle of driverless vehicles and has said “the reality is that over 80 per cent of the goods the UK needs to function each day are moved by road, and we need to work to maximise the efficiency of its performance if we are to reduce emissions and improve transport safety as much as possible, and as quickly as possible.”
Drivers and the transport sector as a whole need not fear the coming era of driverless vehicles, providing their introduction is well thought out.