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New report says Norwich should prepare for a future with driverless cars

PUBLISHED: 14:01 12 February 2017 | UPDATED: 14:13 12 February 2017

A driverless car. Picture: Volvo

A driverless car. Picture: Volvo

Volvo

Taking our hands off the wheel for the morning commute might sound like a futuristic - and foolish - idea.

File photo of the interior of a driverless car, pictured in 2014. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA WireFile photo of the interior of a driverless car, pictured in 2014. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

But driverless cars are well and truly on their way and - with the clock ticking until the first mass market model is on the road - experts hope they will bring an end to rush-hour prangs and the hunt for a parking space.

And in a new report looking at the impact of autonomous vehicles in the city, the Norwich Society is encouraging people to prepare for what lays ahead. Its message - action taken now should consider the long-term move towards electric, driverless and shared vehicles, to avoid frittering both cash and time.

Paul Burall, author of the report and chairman of the society’s strategic policy and transport committee, said: “Driverless cars are much closer to reality than most people think, and we may end up regretting some of the things we are doing now in 15 years time.”

The report - which had input from local solicitors and Transport for London - encourages councils to consider driverless cars in transport policy, including the Norwich Area Transportation Strategy.

The Google driverless car model, pictured in 2015. Picture: John Stillwell/PA WireThe Google driverless car model, pictured in 2015. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Mr Burall, who has been writing about driverless cars for 20 years, said they could cut pollution, accidents and congestion.

“No-one fully understands the impact yet, but it is thought they would reduce crashes by 90pc and congestion by 50pc, as more people would share, rather than own, their cars,” he said.

“But there is obviously two sides to that - if someone is able to put their child or elderly parent in a car, road users could rise.”

Citing future plans for Anglia Square as an example, Mr Burall said more electric charging points should be introduced at developments, parking provision at city centre homes should be limited and investment in car parking should be “closely examined” before going ahead.

Kia Cammaerts, front, technical director, by the simulator and screen at Ansible Motion at the Hethel Engineering Centre, and Ian Haigh, senior engineer, in the control room, where they are working on developing a simulator to help manufacturers prevent motion sickness for passengers in driverless vehicles. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYKia Cammaerts, front, technical director, by the simulator and screen at Ansible Motion at the Hethel Engineering Centre, and Ian Haigh, senior engineer, in the control room, where they are working on developing a simulator to help manufacturers prevent motion sickness for passengers in driverless vehicles. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

He said the cut in pollution, a particular problem in parts of the city centre, would also see Norwich become more much “liveable”.

The study has been given to both Norwich City and Norfolk County Councils.

How close are they?

A11 northbound traffic queue up to the Thickthorn roundabout. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA11 northbound traffic queue up to the Thickthorn roundabout. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

They used to sit with hover boards and teleporters as something from a sci-fi film, but driverless cars are rapidly becoming a reality.

And many are even making the leap from the lab to the showroom - Volvo, Ford and Tesla have pledged to have fully autonomous cars on the road in five years.

Others, including Lexus, BMW, Merecdes, Google and even Apple, are said to be developing technology.

Partially automated cars have been around for the last few years, with autopilot, automated parking and remote control found in vehicles on roads today.

Paul Burall. Picture: Bob HobbsPaul Burall. Picture: Bob Hobbs

And advances are being made right on our doorstep - Ansible Motion, based at Hethel, is using its high-end simulators to discover how to stop passengers in autonomous cars from suffering motion sickness in a bid to stay ahead of the curve.

Driverless pods for disabled people to get around town centres have already been introduced in Milton Keynes.

And how safe?

Kia Cammaerts, left, technical director, and Ian Haigh, senior engineer, by their simulator at Ansible Motion at the Hethel Engineering Centre, where they are working on developing a simulator to help manufacturers prevent motion sickness for passengers in driverless vehicles. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYKia Cammaerts, left, technical director, and Ian Haigh, senior engineer, by their simulator at Ansible Motion at the Hethel Engineering Centre, where they are working on developing a simulator to help manufacturers prevent motion sickness for passengers in driverless vehicles. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Experts say, down the line, driverless cars could reduce the number of fatal crashes by as much as 90pc.

The vast majority of crashes in today’s cars are caused by human error - and even accidents involving driverless cars have largely been a result of drivers misusing the technology.

Whatever the cause, driverless cars are still twice as likely to be involved in a crash as regular.

And last July’s fatal crash in a Tesla self-driving model was a reminder of what can go wrong - neither driver nor autopilot spotted a tractor trailer, and the software being used was in beta mode.

Adverse weather and roadworks have proved obstacles for autonomous cars, while their high-tech nature has made them vulnerable to hacking.

Experiments have proved that a driverless car’s sensors can be fooled using just a handheld laser pointer, causing the car to slow down, stop or swerve.

• What do you think? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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