Driverless vehicles not viable option yet

More trials and rigorous test runs need to be conducted before autonomous vehicles can take to the roads in large numbers ("Driverless car hits lorry during test drive"; Wednesday, and "Self-driving buses to be tested at NTU"; yesterday).

At the heart of the issue is how such vehicles can be safe on our roads. Experience in other countries, particularly in the United States, has shown that driverless vehicles do get involved in accidents.

We cannot assume that autonomous vehicles will make our roads much safer on the presumption that the route guidance technology does not allow them to come into conflict with other vehicles, pedestrians and objects on the road.

This is because the uncertainty and complexity of human behaviour, coupled with road and climatic conditions, need to be understood, a problem that driverless vehicles would inevitably encounter.

Current research data appears inadequate. In addition, the legal and regulatory framework needs to be put firmly in place, while the travel behaviour of motorists needs to be better understood.

As Dr Park Byung Joon, an SIM University senior lecturer in urban transport management, said: "Technology is not advanced enough to pre-empt how humans would behave."

Questions will also be asked as to whether the use of autonomous vehicles would increase car ownership and car use because of the ease of using them, thus adding to the current road congestion.

Introducing autonomous vehicles in Singapore brings many challenges. More deliberation by the Land Transport Authority, research institutes and vehicle promoters is needed before such vehicles can be allowed on our roads.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)  

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Driverless vehicles not viable option yet'. Print Edition | Subscribe