New driverless cars trial launches in Milton Keynes

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A major trial of driverless cars that could change the future of our public transport system launched in Milton Keynes last month.

The trial uses a small 2-seat vehicle called the Fetch, developed by British company Imperium Drive. Users can order the car through a dedicated app, and it will be delivered to them.

Initially, there will be a safety driver in each vehicle, but these will be phased out, and passengers will eventually travel without a driver.

The company behind the trial, Imperium Drive, says that this is possible thanks to computer image algorithms that detect nearby objects. Humans are still involved, but they sit in a control centre.

Another similar trial is taking place in Milton Keynes involving Aurrigo’s AutoPod, a battery-powered shuttle with a top speed of 15mph.

A human safety operator must also be on board when the car is moving, but the trial aims to allow them to become fully autonomous.

The rollout of driverless cars

If the trials are successful, people will soon be able to pay to use these vehicles for rides from Milton Keynes train station.

Milton Keynes Council is backing the idea and is keen to make driverless cars commonplace in the town. It is also looking at ideas using similar technology, like larger shuttles, to move people away from single-occupancy vehicles.

These schemes are different from the automatic lane-keeping system (ALKS) seen in modern cars, including features like emergency braking and lane control.

Drivers must currently be in complete control of the vehicle at all times, but they could soon be allowed to take their hands off the steering wheel in some situations if proposed changes to the Highway Code are introduced.

Are driverless car schemes safe?

Imperium Drive says the company is working towards “making remote driving safer than normal driving.”The theory is that when motorists are driving normally, there are blind spots around them that can cause accidents. It can also be challenging to anticipate what is coming, and many accidents come down to human error due to tiredness or being distracted.

However, the driverless car scheme is still very new, and there is currently little data to back up claims it is a safer way to travel.

In a similar US trial by Uber in 2018, a pedestrian was hit and killed by a self-driving car. This was reported to be the first death by a self-driving car, and it raised some safety concerns about rolling these schemes out more widely.

How will driverless cars affect personal injury compensation claims?

The Uber case has also led to questions about the legal implications for accidents involving driverless cars.

The backup driver of the Uber test car in the US was found to be streaming a TV programme at the time of the accident and has since been charged with negligent homicide.

But where does this leave passengers of driverless cars in schemes like the trial in Milton Keynes?

A consultation by The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission has recommended that’ drivers’ are renamed ‘users in charge’.

What this means is that if anything went wrong, the company behind the driving system would be responsible, rather than the driver.

The Law Commission is proposing a ‘no blame culture’ where anything from a speeding offence to a serious accident should be transferred from a vehicle’s user to the manufacturer of the vehicle.

Specialist personal injury solicitor Anna Cole says:

“As driverless cars become more commonplace on our roads, it’s important for people to understand the safety implications and where they stand legally if they are involved in an accident.

“This is new territory, but we welcome recommendations to put more legal responsibility on vehicle manufacturers. This should result in increased vigilance on safety issues on the part of manufacturers and give drivers greater peace of mind.”

If you or a loved one has been involved in a road traffic accident thatwawasn’tourr fault, our expert solicitors are here to help. Contact us on Freephone 0800 884 0777 or email or complete our online form for a free, no-obligation chat.

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