Driverless cars could lead to complacency and slower driver reactions during an emergency, the Lords Science and Technology Committee has warned. 

While the Committee acknowledged some technology has the potential to limit accidents caused by human error, it also voiced concern that drivers of semi-autonomous cars could be slower responding in an emergency. 

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the vehicles will be graded according to their automation levels, from zero to five, with level five being fully automated. 

The committee’s concern was with vehicles around the level three mark, which still need a driver but can shift operations between them and the car. The risk the vehicle may be handed back to an unprepared driver during an emergency, it said, may be “too great to tolerate”. 

Research by the University of Southampton into the length of time needed for a driver to switch from automated to manual car control found drivers needed between 1.9 and 25.7 seconds to take control of the car, depending on environmental conditions and driver behaviour. 

The Department for Transport believes automated vehicles could make British roads safer and increase mobility for those unable to drive, and has committed £200 million to research and development.  

Richard Johnson, a personal injury solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors, echoed the committee’s concerns regarding the new technology. 

“On paper, driverless cars sound a great option for reducing accidents caused by human error and there is no doubt it could be transformative for those currently unable to drive,” he said. 

“But this new technology also presents new risks. Research so far suggests drivers of automated cars are less effective at dealing with emergencies than manual car drivers. So with this new technology comes new danger for drivers but also other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists. 

“Every day we work with people living with the sometimes life-changing and tragic consequences of road traffic accidents. Investing in more research for this technology is entirely necessary to get this right for all road users. On behalf of our clients we welcome contributions, such as that of the Lords committee, on the subject. We know too well the destructive capabilities of lumps of metal travelling at speed and it’s crucial we properly identify the advantages and risks now, before this unprecedented new technology makes it onto British roads.”