The mass-manufactured flying car long promised to us by science fiction may have thus far failed to materialise (though we’re assured certain folks are still working on it), but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers bringing us another marvel of the modern age: The driverless car.

Though the idea of not having to drive ourselves anywhere might not sound great for those of us who love nothing more than getting behind a wheel, the driverless cars have been praised all the same for the benefits they’ll bring. Namely, that they will empower the elderly and disabled to still get around even if they can’t drive themselves.

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Trial runs

Leading car brands like Nissan and Volvo have already been testing theirs, whilst in the UK, business secretary Vince Cable recently announced trials of self-driving cars on Britain’s roads from January 2015. The test-runs, taking place in three major cities around the country, will be carried out by the Department of Transport, who will be looking to see how these vehicles can be fully integrated into our always-on-the-go culture.

Elsewhere, technology giant Google has already travelled more than one million miles in its own driverless car, and says that the one single accident that did occur during that time was when a human driver took over control of the vehicle.

Human error

A report recently issued by the Institution of Engineering and Technology predicts that it will take less than fifteen years before fully autonomous vehicles are a normal part of life, though it suggests that if these cars are allowed to travel along the same roads as those still manually driving around, we may find ourselves with more, not less accidents.

As part of its research, drivers used simulators to test their reactions when sharing a road with a self-driving car, and found that humans do in fact change their behaviour in these circumstances. The primary concern was that drivers tended to leave less room between themselves and the car in front, creating a greater risk of collision.

Though the computerised vehicles would be able to respond appropriately within an instant, humans don’t quite react so quickly, meaning more chance of something going wrong.

Cyber safety

Beyond that, the IET warned that the security of the software used in these new driverless cars is likely to be a major factor, and a major headache, for both leading car manufacturers and insurers alike.

Hugh Boyes, the head of cyber security at IET, recently predicted that chaos could well reign supreme is hackers start to target automated vehicles.

Boyes said that despite the motor industry’s well-documented commitment to safety, computerised cars pose a whole new threat which must be addressed sooner, rather than later, admitting that in today’s society, there’s a large number of people keen on tampering with emerging technology.

Yet this doesn’t seem to be putting anyone off going full bore into trialling automated vehicles.