The excitement around the prospect of safe, self-driving vehicle fleets soon appearing on our roads is rising. Many large organisations such as Tesla and Ford are taking interest in making autonomous fleets safer, and the worldwide autonomous vehicle market is estimated to be worth around US$54 billion. As time passes and technology advances even further, this value is predicted to grow.
However, many employers with fleets of vehicles are still not taking full advantage of the technology that is already emerging. The UK Government has already started trialling autonomous vehicles on UK roads and hopes to see wider roll-out by 2021. As tests continue, it will become increasingly important for fleet managers to understand the potential technological benefits and challenges that will emerge during the move towards full vehicle autonomy.
Some commonly predicted benefits of vehicle automation include a significant decrease in the number of road traffic collisions, increased productivity and reduced road congestion. Fleet managers will need to update their knowledge of new vehicle technology, changes in road and legal infrastructure, and their understanding of IT security.
The rise of autonomous fleets will also affect how underwriters determine fleet insurance premiums. More weight will need to be given to the vehicle manufacturer and model, and the autonomous driving safety history of that particular model, and less to the driver themselves. It will be important to consider where vehicles are being driven – if they are driving on roads that have been purposely built for autonomous vehicles, there should be fewer collisions.
The speed at which new vehicle technology disrupts the fleet job market will also become increasingly important, but driving jobs will not disappear overnight. There are multiple steps between zero and full automation and the kinds of role that will be required will vary. Drivers will still need to take responsibility for their own safety and that of other road users. Training in the new technology, and the safe use of it, is serious and needs to be prioritised by any organisation that employs people who drive for work.
New safety frameworks will be needed to enable employers to understand what is acceptable in terms of safety, but this may be an extra burden for smaller organisations. Fleets that are left to self-certify their vehicles could overlook simple safety considerations – turning preventable technical issues into something dangerous and costly.
Some key questions remain regarding who will remain in control of a vehicle and where responsibility will lie in the event of something going wrong. New legislation will be needed to manage these implications, and there will need to be an overhaul in the environment and infrastructure. Many industries that use autonomous technology are already heavily regulated, but there are no official guidelines for what safe autonomous driving looks like yet. Without real-world experience, it’s hard for regulators to mandate best practice.