Digital Driving

It can often be difficult to comprehend the level at which digitalisation infiltrates our daily life; it has become so commonplace that it can be difficult to remember, or for the young amongst us, to imagine a world without electronics, apps or social media. Whilst the transport and warehousing industry is largely built upon electronic and digital foundations, it was inevitable that it would one day follow suit in embracing the rise of digitalisation beyond factory walls. In recent years, vehicles have become increasingly digitalised, with self-park modes, in-car phones and paper tax discs transitioning to an online service only. Our roads have also adapted with smart motorways and lanes that have the capability to charge electric cars as they drive. Now, there are further proposals still; digital driving licenses are being considered, new virtual reality safety apps are being launched and of course, the introduction of autonomous vehicles looms.

The necessity and productivity of each upcoming proposal, in our opinion, varies. Within this piece we shall assess how the sector will be affected by the digitalisations on our horizon, namely the digitalised driving licence, implementation of autonomous vehicles onto British roads and lastly, the launch of the virtual reality app.

Although perhaps only a minor change to the industry, last year saw the first trial of digital driving licenses, allowing motorists to carry their licence with them without having a physical copy to hand. The intention is to offer drivers numerous benefits that do not otherwise exist; from reducing fraud and theft to allowing greater ease in renewing almost-expired licenses. It’s practicality however should be drawn to question with security breaches a potential risk; would drivers be protected in the case of mobile theft? Equally, in the unfortunate event of an accident, will it be more difficult to identify drivers? Here at Barnes, we feel that this concern is particularly pressing; as mobile phones are becoming increasingly reliant on fingerprint technology to unlock the device, if a physical license was not at the scene, would it possible to identify the driver if they were unconscious? To move away from morbidity, we believe that with these points taken into consideration then the digitalised licence could become a useful addition to the digital driving portfolio. This, however, is merely a small-scale change to the world of digitalisation within the driving industry, with one greatly significant change fast approaching; autonomous vehicles.

Ambiguously set to hit our roads ‘later this year’, it seems that driverless vehicles are on the horizon . In countries such as Belgium, tests have already begun, whilst in the US the trials are now a regularity, with some brands advertising public use of their driverless cars. However, following recent reports of a pedestrian death caused by autonomous vehicles, the safety of the autonomous vehicles must be called into question. Although it was the first-known incident of its kind, it was far from the first autonomous vehicle accident; a similar outcome evolved with a Tesla model after it failed to recognise the hazard as it occurred, and so the “the brake was not applied”. It seems that these accidents are becoming a commonality amongst driverless vehicles, and we fear that these accidents would only be accentuated if they were to involve larger vehicles.

The details surrounding the trials and potential launch of autonomous HGVs it seems are less public and are being kept out of the limelight. Yet discussions are underway with officials – this much the public do know. Having spoken in detail about this topic before, we ask once again; are autonomous HGVs really the safest addition to our roads? Here at Barnes, we urge the Government to reconsider their plans; not only would driverless HGVs affect the livelihood of millions of drivers, but as before, we want to reiterate that the skills humans, particularly in cases of sudden, uncontrollable variables, cannot be undermined. For all the positives that come from the digitalisation of various transport systems, we, and others in the industry alike, fear that with driverless vehicles and HGVs, the cons significantly outweigh the pros.

To finish on a positive note, we wanted to reflect on the newly launched app from Highways England that aims to improve driver awareness of blind spots. The smartphone app, used in conjunction with cardboard goggles, aims to accurately recreate a driving environment where the acknowledgement of blind spots are vital, such as, joining a motorway, overtaking and tailgating. Whilst our employees are qualified to the highest standards, we believe that all drivers should have the option of improving their driving skills further and that there is no such thing as too much practice! If you have tried out the app, let us know your thoughts on it using our Twitter feed.

As the digital world continues to evolve, we expect that further changes will be made to the transport industry. Whilst some could be considered pivotal, be this in a positive or negative manner as demonstrated with the new VR app in comparison to driverless vehicles, others are only minor changes. Currently, it seems that most digitalisation movements are simply ‘in discussion’, but, if the safety of all road users are completely considered and used to motivate and shape future necessary additions to the industry, we believe that the transport industry as a whole can benefit.