Any lover of science fiction will tell you, to see the future simply look at the imagination of current writers of sci-fi stories. OK, so we haven’t reached the heights of ‘Beam me up Scotty’ but we do have flip top mobile phones, 3D printers and commercial space travel is not too far away.
What about the transportation of goods and people? If we can’t use teleporting (yet), is there a new way to safely move objects and individuals across large distances looming on the future horizon? Electric buses are already in action and Tesco recently announced its move to electric HGVs. All allegedly good news for the environment and a welcome development after the years of R&D in car manufacturing. If logistics’ operators are taking the lead from the car industry, logic suggests the next move will be into driverless vehicles. Well, that’s me redundant! On paper it resolves the issue of driver shortages but how will it work and who do we blame when things go wrong? Despite advances in automation technology and operational techniques, self-driving vehicles remain distrusted and hard to build. We genuinely don’t know the best route to take. One option is the ‘road train’. A series of lorries, driving in tandem, with only the front vehicle being driven by a ‘real’ driver. Another idea is a ‘remote controlled’ vehicle, with a central control team driving the vehicle via 5G technology. This is currently being trialled for the last mile of the delivery network and is probably more suited to smaller delivery vehicles. Whatever the future brings, one key stumbling block is legislation to protect those involved in an accident caused by a driverless vehicle. A recent report by the UK’s Law Commissions suggests any blame should lie with the manufacturer. If this becomes law, will it encourage more manufacturers to take their responsibilities seriously or will it discourage risky research and development? Likewise, will manufacturers (or their insurers) increase the demand for supervision, training and qualifications for anyone managing driverless fleets? After the publication of the report, Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said she and the government would take a close look at the findings, which the Department for Transport (DfT) commissioned, and consider the recommendations. “The development of self-driving vehicles in the UK has the potential to revolutionise travel, making everyday journeys safer, easier and greener,” she said. “This government has been encouraging development and deployment of these technologies to understand their benefits. However, we must ensure we have the right regulations in place, based upon safety and accountability, in order to build public confidence. That’s why the department funded this independent report and I look forward to fully considering the recommendations and responding in due course.” One final thought. Two hundred years ago there was no rail network in the UK and not a car on the road. It would’ve been inconceivable to the average person to think goods and people would hurtle across the country, powered by coal, electricity or diesel. Forty years ago, mobile phones didn’t exist. We were yet to discover the power to transfer information at lightning speed. Again, who saw it coming? Is teleporting our next big adventure? Only time will tell. Until then, stay safe on the roads and don’t forget to contact us if you want to check you are still legally transporting goods or people.