The development of self-driving cars will be a “revolution” for many elderly and disabled people, the Transport Secretary has said.
Chris Grayling claimed the technology would give people who cannot drive a “new sense of freedom” as he gave a speech to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
He told the event in the City of London: “The potential benefits of these new technologies for human mobility and wider society are tremendously exciting. I think this is the real core of the revolution that lies ahead.
“There are many people who cannot drive today, who cannot travel on our roads today, who will be able to take to the roads in future.
“The elderly, people with disabilities, who cannot drive today are going to discover a new sense of freedom and opportunity and independence. That probably is the biggest transformation that will happen.”
Mr Grayling said there were “huge safety implications” for removing control of vehicles from drivers, telling the audience: “Self-driving cars should make road travel far safer by eliminating the biggest contributory factor in accidents today – human error.”
He outlined his ambition for the UK to be a world leader in autonomous vehicle technology.
After arriving at the event in a semi-autonomous Tesla vehicle, which he said was able to brake and accelerate to fit in with the traffic in front, he claimed the benefits of such vehicles would be witnessed “much sooner than most people expect”.
He went on: “I expect the first completely self-driving cars to reach the market and to be used on UK roads by 2021. I want to see that revolution be happening by then. We are determined that this country should be at the forefront of this revolution.”
A new compulsory insurance framework that covers automated vehicles will be mandated as part of measures in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill which is going through Parliament.
“This will ensure that victims have quick and easy access to compensation,” Mr Grayling said.
ABI director general Huw Evans said: “Fully automated cars have the potential to drastically improve road safety, reduce transport delays and increase the mobility of thousands of people who currently find it hard to get around.
“Insurers have helped shape the straightforward proposals for insuring autonomous vehicles, now making their way through Parliament, and will continue to support efforts to bring these innovative vehicles safely on to the UK’s roads.”
A “cluster of excellence” is to be created along the M40 corridor to develop driverless car technology using existing testing centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford, Milton Keynes and London.
An RAC poll in July found that two out of five motorists believe the Government should concentrate on improving roads instead of supporting the growth of autonomous vehicles.
The survey of almost 2,200 drivers found that 39% want work such as redesigning congestion pinch points and repairing potholes to be given preference.
More than a quarter (27%) of respondents felt money would also be better spent on health or education, while 17% support investment in driverless cars but believe it “should not be a priority”.