It may be music to the ears of older cabbies and delivery drivers working into their twilight years, but London’s formal announcement that it won’t be legalizing driverless cars until at least the 2030s is still a sign that, eventually, autonomous vehicles will be rolling on the roads of the world’s largest municipalities.
The London Assembly made clear that regulators aren’t ready to give the green light to autonomous vehicles, ranging from driverless cars to delivery drones, for at least a decade. Infrastructure isn’t ready for the expected uptick in car traffic, either.
The Assembly cited several concerns that they consider significant hang-ups when it comes to approving such radical shifts in how humans and their goods are transported.
The opportunity to improve mobility for millions of Londoners is here, but it will require proper planning, transparency, and accountability, as well as cooperation with government, boroughs and development companies, said Keith Prince, chairman of the London Assembly Transport Committee.
The response comes in the aftermath of a bold proclamation by Chancer Philip Hammond, who in his November Budget claimed that completely autonomous cars would be spotted on Britain’s roads as soon as 2021. Naturally, this created a reaction that was equal parts excitement, surprise, and wariness, depending on an individual’s profession and view on radical technological leaps.
But the 2030s benchmark was specifically applied to autonomous cars, and it remains unclear how imminent the proliferation of other autonomous technology, such as delivery drones, may be. With London expected to be one of the most logical testing grounds for autonomous transport, the announcement of a delay in the timetable could serve as a global precedent, or could merely be resigned to London.
The case of London is, in fact, unique in many ways. Concerns about traffic congestion in an already-packed city such as London are valid.
‘Put simply, people who currently drive very little or not at all may decide to take advantage of CAVs (connected autonomous vehicles) by travelling in cars more often,’ the 123RFreport reads. ‘If this happens on a large scale, this would mean CAVs may contribute to traffic congestion, and/or prevent a hoped-for shift towards more sustainable transport modes.'
It’s a valid concern, but other major cities with more sparsely populated roadways may be more willing to take the dive into autonomous vehicle testing on its roadways before London. Some anticipate that London will have to ingrain a culture of ride-sharing before it allows autonomous vehicles to account for a likely overspill of traffic. Either way, those who were banking on the 2021 rollout date for autonomous cars, set by Chancellor Hammond in last year’s budget, seem ripe for disappointment.