A self-driving car sounds like something out of a science fiction novel. But these vehicles do exist, and could be on UK roads before long. But how do they work, and are they really safe enough to drive amongst regular cars on roads and motorways? We’ve explored this topic in more detail below: 

What is a Self-Driving Car?

When you hear about self-driving cars, you can’t help but wonder if they really do what the name suggests! The short answer is that these cars can’t completely drive themselves - there has to be someone in the driving seat to take charge in certain situations. The vehicle should detect when a driver is needed, and let them know to take over.

But this doesn’t mean that fully automated cars don't exist. Automated cars are termed ‘self-aware’, which means that they can operate without assistance from a human driver. However, there are different levels of automation - not all automated cars will have the same features and AI capabilities as others. 

How Does a Self-Driving Car Work?

Just like any other type of car, how everything works will partly depend on the make, model and manufacturer. But broadly speaking, most self-driving cars have the same features, which include lots of different sensors, along with a central computer system and camera technology.

In terms of the sensors, most self-driving cars will have ultrasonic, radar and lidar sensors. Ultrasonic sensors are designed to detect things like other cars and curb edges, and are primarily used for maneuvering and parking. Radar sensors calculate the speed of passing vehicles, to prevent collisions, while lidar sensors detect light and the car’s surroundings. Lidar sensors are probably the most sci-fi - they can locate lane markings and road edges by beaming laser light!

When it comes to the video camera technology, this works in a similar way to some of the sensors, in that it can track any obstacles, road signs and traffic lights your car encounters. Finally, the central computer system gets information from all the other elements of a self-driving car, and is therefore in charge of steering, acceleration and braking. 

self driving car

Self-Driving Cars - Pros and Cons

Self-driving cars can be a contentious topic. Not everybody likes the idea of a car that can drive itself, in case anything goes wrong, while others fully support this cutting edge technology. We’ve explored some of the pros and cons below:

Advantages

  • One day, self-driving cars may be the more environmentally friendly option, as they’ll streamline traffic flow, thereby reducing fuel consumption
  • With optimised traffic flow, roads should be safer, especially as self-driving cars remove human error from the equation 
  • It’s been suggested that self-driving cars are a more inclusive mode of transport - they allow people with disabilities and individuals who haven’t learnt to drive to be more independent

Disadvantages

  • The main concern with self-driving cars is safety. As with any AI technology, there is a risk of things going wrong, software degradation, or hacking.
  • While proponents of self-driving cars believe that they’re better for the environment, they operate using 5G, which would use a lot of (mostly fossil fueled) energy resources 
  • In the short term, these vehicles would require a lot of new infrastructure to be built, which would cost a huge amount of money

Where Can You Drive Self-Driving Cars?

At some point in the near future, self driving cars will be able to travel on UK motorways. Though these won’t be fully automatic vehicles - for them to be legal, someone will need to be sat behind the wheel with their seatbelt fastened. The driver has to be in a position to take control of the car should the vehicle detect a collision risk. 

Should such a risk occur, an emergency manoeuvre would be implemented, which would probably involve braking. And if the driver fails to take control of the car after this manoeuvre, the idea is that the vehicle would turn on its hazard lights and come to a slow stop.

buy a self driving car

Can You Buy a Self-Driving Car?

At the moment, self-driving cars aren’t sold commercially. You can get vehicles that will do things like park for you, but as of yet, fully autonomous cars are mostly still in the testing stages. Who knows how many years it will be before self-driving cars will be easily accessible, let alone more popular than manual vehicles!

In the meantime, there are plenty of high-tech cars you can choose from, with features like keyless entry, collision warnings, and automatic high-beam lights when driving at night. And if you’re looking to get such a vehicle on finance, Wheelie Good Finance can help!

We’ll compare our panel of lenders, and do our best to find you a suitable vehicle finance provider. Apply now, or get in touch with one of our friendly team members to discuss your options!