Driverless cars – coming soon to a street near you

Driverless cars will be widely available in the UK within the next few years, according to the big car manufacturers.

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The hi-tech vehicles have the support of the government, which is looking into how to change driving laws to accommodate them.

Andrew Jones, the roads minister, said: “Driverless cars are coming, and sooner than many people expect. Eventually, there will be virtually nothing left for the motorist to do.”

So which driverless cars are you most likely to see on a road near you soon? Let’s find out.

Already available…

Driverless cars might sound like something out of a science fiction film, but they are already being tested in the UK.

In Milton Keynes, for example, self-driving pods are being trialled in pedestrianised areas. And in London, driverless Volvos look set to hit the streets soon, as the manufacturer rolls out up to 100 driverless cars over the next two years.

You can even put in an order for a number of models that already offer self-driving functions.

Perhaps the most advanced of these is the Tesla Model S.

Its Autopilot mode works at motorway speeds and will slow the car if the vehicle in front changes speed, keep the car in the middle of the lane, and even change lanes hands-free when you put the indicator on.

Class act

Other options include the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which offers a Drive Pilot feature as part of its Driver Assistance package.

It too keeps the car’s position in a motorway lane at speeds of up to 130mph – and at speeds of up to 80mph if it’s following another car but no lane markings are present – and automatically changes lane when you indicate.

Mercedes-Benz won’t let the car self-drive for long though: after 30 seconds, a warning will sound and the car will pull over and come to a halt if you don’t put your hands back on the wheel.

Seventh heaven?

Then there’s the new BMW 7 Series. It has an Automatic Parking feature that allows it to park itself, even when there’s nobody in it.

The feature, which requires you to hold down a button on the keyfob, is perfect for those with tight-fitting garages, and may one day allow you to leave your car at a car park entrance and walk off while it parks itself.

Mainstream choices

But you don’t have to spend a fortune on a car to get access to a self-parking vehicle.

Mainstream models such as the Ford Focus also offer advanced Active Park Assist systems that will parallel park the car if you operate the pedals.

Coming soon…

More than 90% of today’s road accidents have an element of human error. Fans of driverless cars therefore hope that they will help to make our roads a much safer place.

Driverless cars will present challenges for motor insurers, though. That’s why the government is already working with insurers to make sure the industry is prepared when driverless cars hit our roads in serious numbers.

Proposed changes include extending motor insurance to cover product liability. Andrew Jones said: “Where the vehicle is at fault then the insurer will be able to seek reimbursement from the manufacturer.

“However, motorists and victims of collisions won’t be forced to go to court to obtain compensation. They will have the benefit of fast and fair insurance compensation – just as they do today.”

Such changes will pave the way for the introduction of “mass market” self-driving cars such as the Nissan Qashqai Piloted Drive, which is due to become available in the UK next year.

Its system should allow drivers take their hands off the wheel in heavy traffic, before taking over again when speeds rise.

Future plans…

Remember Herbie – the racing VW Beetle that screeched up to save its hapless drivers from impending disaster in the Love Bug films?

Well, you could soon call a Mini to do the very same thing.

BMW has plans to introduce self-driving Minis that are available at any location at any time

Motorists will be able to call on one “wherever they are, day or night”, the company said.

The Every Mini Is My Mini car-sharing project is expected to take “two or three decades” to become a reality, though.

Potentially closer to fruition is BMW’s plan for a Rolls Royce VISION NEXT 100 (or 103EX), a car that Rolls Royce has claimed “defines the future of luxury mobility”.

It comes with its very own artificial intelligence (AI) system, Eleanor, which acts as both a virtual assistant and a chauffeur.

“She ‘brings’ the car around when her passengers are ready to travel and helpfully but discreetly makes suggestions and recommendations, briefing them ahead of their arrival,” the company said.

“Ever vigilant, ‘Eleanor’ safely delivers her passengers to their destination, having already predicted the situation and surroundings that await them.”

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