OPINION: Are you for or against self-driving cars in the UK?

Driverless cars. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Self-driving cars eliminate human error and make roads safer, says Andrew Fitchett - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Self-driving cars could be allowed on the UK's roads by the end of this year.

The Department for Transport announced earlier this week that automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) would be the first type of legal hands-free driving.

Cars would travel of speeds up to 37mph with their position on the road controlled by computer.

Drivers will not be required to monitor the road or keep their hands on the wheel when the vehicle is driving itself, although the driver would need to be able to take over the controls within 10 seconds if requested by the vehicle's system.

Failure to respond would eventually lead the car to slow down and stop.

Does this sound like a great step forward in solving our transport issues or does the idea of sitting in a car controlled by a robot fill you with dread?

FOR: Andrew Fitchett

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Whenever new technology is introduced into our lives, there's a natural tendency to eye it suspiciously.

We've been told that mobile phones would give us brain cancer, and Y2K was going to bring the planet to a grinding halt.

When the original telephone became widespread in the early 20th century, people feared they would explode, and that people could listen in to their calls (fair enough on that one).

The Department of Transport's announcement that it will allow some self-driving cars on UK roads has been met with a similar response in some quarters.

It's understandable - the thought of a robot driving your car is just a little disconcerting.

But the facts - as they stand - are that it is much, much safer.

Tesla - the US car manufacturer who are the main player in the self-drive market - keep a close eye on safety data as they test its abilities.

The facts are pretty stark. A car driven by a person has a crash every 484,000 miles. A car driven by a robot crashes every 4.19 million miles.

That makes cars driven by people at least 8.5 times more likely to have a crash and raises an inconvenient truth - that drivers are what make cars dangerous.

If you consider yourself a "safe" driver, this just doesn't sit right. You will be thinking 'well, I've never had a crash'.

Unfortunately, you are not every driver. And the reasons for most crashes are clear.

Norfolk Police will remind you at every opportunity of the so-called "Fatal Four" - speeding, using a mobile phone, not wearing a seatbelt and driving under the influence of drink or drugs.

If you extend that to other common causes of accidents - getting distracted by other things in the car, falling asleep at the wheel, general dangerous/negligent driving - it's clear that if you take human error out of the equation, driving gets much safer.

Go through those causes and consider how many a robot is affected by. It is, whether we like it or not, none of them.

This is just the start of self-driving, and it will be a time before people can get their heads round it.

Every crash will be met with horror, and questions will be asked about safety - while fatal crashes caused by human error will continue.

The current rate is three a day.

Thinkstock Driver with mobile

With a robot in control of your car you'd be more likely to look at your phone, argues Nick Richards - Credit: Archant

AGAINST: Nick Richards

I think I speak on behalf of the average driver in this country by saying this whole idea is just not viable.

Having seen how many people seem to swerve using self-service tills in supermarkets, I can't believe anyone would feel comfortable sitting in a car and having the simple joy of driving replaced by a robot.

While I don't get panicky if I get an unexplained item in my baggage area, I do feel my heart thump when any kind of tech interferes with driving.

I'm talking warning lights - even when I'm low on petrol and the car tells me to refuel I like to think I'll just use the petrol gauge and work it out for myself.

I don't need a sensor on my car to tell me to fill up or that my car needs a service.

How many people use the rear view camera in their car when they park - do people really trust them over looking in mirrors for themselves?

I get that on a test track the idea of a self-driving car works, but how can that relate to Britain's roads?

There are so many questions this idea throws up - firstly are we talking about relaying thousands of miles of roads across the whole country or is there going to be a lane next to the hard shoulder for these self-driving cars to function on?

What about driving on a tight, twisty road like the A149 between Sheringham and Wells for example? That just wouldn't work.

So are we just talking about some kind of cruise control function on motorways? What happens if the car hits a deer? Will the car malfunction and not allow you to restart it?

What about roundabouts? Will it struggle to work out what to do with them and take you round at milk float speed?

Driving a car is something I and millions of people in the UK enjoy and yes, I've never had an accident.

I know all about the police's "Fatal Four" but surely self-driving cars only take away the speed factor and wouldn't they potentially leave you more open to indulge in the other three?

With a computer taking over the controls, what are drivers supposed to do?

I'd say they'll either fall asleep, look at their phone or nervously switch between looking at the road, dashboard and in their mirrors to check they aren't going to crash. 

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