Earlier this week I attended an all-party meeting in Parliament on the topical subject of autonomous or ‘driverless’ vehicle technology. Automated vehicles have the potential to transform our roads in the future and make them even safer and easier to use. They also promise new mobility for those who cannot drive – particularly people with disabilities or health conditions such as glaucoma, which can prohibit them from getting behind the wheel.
Official research indicates that the market for automated vehicles in the UK will be worth £28 billion by 2035, which is why the Government recently committed to invest over £200 million in new research and testing infrastructure to ensure the UK remains one of the best places to develop this technology.
Here in the West Midlands, this technology will be significantly important to the future of our manufacturing industry; particularly for our flourishing automotive sector and I determined to make sure that our Borough gets its fair share of the market.
The concept of these ‘robot chauffeurs’ is not something that we should expect to see available to us imminently. Whilst there have been significant advancements made in recent years in electric vehicles, the technology that is required to track automated vehicles is still very expensive and does not yet provide a competitive or cost efficient mode of transport. For that reason, we should expect to see this technology being used for high value vehicles such as luxury cars and freight before it is deployed in smaller, more affordable models. Nevertheless current predictions suggest that fully autonomous modes of transport should be seen on our road from 2025 onwards.
Of course, such rapid advancements in the automotive sector will inevitably raise a number of questions around jobs, market competition, consumer cost (such as insurance premiums) and the environment, in particular. However, in considering this the Government remains committed to ensuring that a robust framework is in place to deal with this transition so to guarantee that in this new technological and industrial age, our economy can continue to grow and the UK can be a leading global competitor in this field.
Dame Caroline Spelman MP