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Fully autonomous cars may never be allowed, says BMW boss

Ian Robertson, BMW's special representative in the UK, believes Governments could outlaw autonomous car features

Fully autonomous cars may never be allowed on the roads, according to a senior member of BMW.

Ian Robertson, BMW’s special representative in the UK, believes that regulation will ultimately curtail autonomous features. “I think Governments will actually say ‘okay, autonomous can go this far’”, he said. “It won’t be too long before Government says, or regulators say, that in all circumstances it will not be allowed.”

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All you need to know about autonomous cars

Robertson also said he thought humans would always be responsible for life-and-death decisions: “Even though the car is more than capable of taking an algorithm to make the choice, I don’t think we’re ever going to be faced where a car will make the choice between that death and another death.”

BMW has significant experience with autonomous vehicles. Robertson explained the company operates several fleets of self-driving cars, including one in Germany that regularly runs 1,000km between Munich and Trieste in northern Italy.

Each of the company’s self-driving cars logs 40 terabytes of data every day, 20 times the amount of information recorded by an Airbus A380 as it crosses the Atlantic. Even so, Robertson said “the technology is not mature right now”. He explained: “The measure of success is how many times the engineer has to get involved. And we’re currently sitting at around three times [every 1,000km]. Sounds pretty good… however, that’s three times too many. It has to be perfect.”

Robertson also said regulation needs to change for autonomous vehicles to be allowed on the road: “The Highway Code… actually prevents autonomous driving. It is not allowed. And the Highway Code is a fundamental part of lots of other regulation.” Changes to UK driving laws are unlikely to emerge before 2021, though, as a three-year review into regulations was only recently announced.

Read: autonomous cars without steering wheels are unlikely before 2045, according to the EU’s Commissioner for Transport…

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