Robotic cars and 106-year-old drivers?

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So, Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown got it wrong.

In the 1989 blockbuster Back to the Future 2, we saw the time-travelling duo whizzing around in flying cars through sky motorways in the then-futuristic year of 2015.

But – as you have no doubt noticed – our cars are still firmly on the ground but that doesn’t mean there’s not big changes on the horizon for the way we drive.

Take Google.

The technological heavyweight has been busy wheeling out several prototypes of its driverless car.

The latest was presented in the summer; it had no pedals, no steering wheel but, more importantly, it didn’t have a human in charge.

It’s all part of the autonomous car revolution which is also being researched and tested by big names in the car industry like Volvo, Mercedes Benz and Toyota.

Motoring experts say these electric cars, which require little or no input from the driver, will be common sights on our roads by 2025.

But is it safe to hand over control to a machine, or is only sensible to remove the driver error factor?

It seems that when it comes to road safety, it doesn’t necessarily have to be ultra-modern to be on the agenda.

For example, two years ago, the number of drivers in the UK over the age of 80 topped the one million mark.

Does that mean we have more experienced drivers on our roads than ever before, or do we raise the question of compulsory re-testing and eye tests?

Whatever your feelings about robotic cars or older drivers, if you are a motorist, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian, road safety does affect you.

Neil Greig, director of policy and resource for the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) sits on the Scottish Government road safety operational group and chairs the publicity committee of Road Safety Scotland.

Part of his role is reviewing what’s going on in the motoring scene and what can be done to improve road safety.

“There are three things we can do to improve road safety,” said Neil.

“We can make cars safer, make our roads safer and we can make our drivers safer.

“Many think safer cars are the answer.

“In the next 10 or 20 years, we will see driverless cars.

“Even now we have ones that will keep you in lane, keep you awake and keep you a safe distance from the car in front, all without you touching it.

“But this kind of technology relies on the condition of our roads, as the cars have to be able to read the white lines on the road and speed signs.

“One of the biggest challenges will be managing the mix of cars on the road.

“We will have people in N-reg older cars alongside brand new BMWs that can park themselves.

“When it comes to drivers, one of the issues is that we have a demographic time bomb.

“There are fewer younger drivers, that’s those at 17 and 18 years old.

“In the last five to ten years, the number of young drivers have dropped by 25 per cent but, on the other side of that, we have a big increase in the number of older drivers.

“We have just over one million people over the age of 80 driving and there is a 106-year-old with an active drivers’ licence.

“Older drivers are safer because they have lots of experience and they don’t speed or drink drive; they behave themselves.

“But, at the moment, when drivers reach 70, they renew their licence every three years by ticking a box.

“I think this is something we are going to have to look a, particularly with 80 or 90-year-old drivers.”

Despite the new challenges that will certainly unfold over the next 20 years, there are aspects of road safety that have been, and continue to be, of concern.

Last week the Scottish Government launched its annual country roads campaign to urge drivers – particularly young men – to be wary of the dangers of rural country roads.

A-roads and quiet country routes remain dangerous and are responsible for more fatalities than motorways.

Last year 755 people were killed or seriously injured while driving on country roads and three out of four of those were men.

Neil said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s rural road safety campaign; it’s something we have been pushing it to continue for many years.

“On rural roads, people are most likely to die.

“The safest roads are in towns and cities where the speeds are lower and the injuries are less serious.

“But, going for a nice run in the country, drivers can go too fast, overtake and lose control on a bend.

“They come off the road and hit something solid like a wall or a tree.

“Even in a modern car, that is still something that’s likely to kill you.

“If drivers make mistakes on rural roads, they can be heavily punished.”

Alongside a very public safety campaign, which includes an emotive dramatisation and the support of rugby star Stuart Hogg, experts are also re-assessing Scotland’s road safety priorities behind the scenes.

This year marks the half-way point of Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2020 project which ultimately aims to improve road safety and reduce casualties.

Neil said: “We have already met most of the targets, but we’ve still got five years to go, and there’s a half-term review at the moment about what we should do.

“We’re consulting with a range of experts and the NHS and the education sector.

“I don’t think the targets will change overall but the priorities may change.

“One of the things the focus may turn to is pedestrian deaths.”

Figures released in the summer show that there were 11,240 road casualties reported in 2014, down two per cent on the previous year.

That included 56 pedestrian deaths, 18 more than in 2013, and 31 motorcycle fatalities, eight more than in 2013.

Neil added: “Among the worst roads, based on the sheer number of people killed, are the A811 from Drymen to Stirling and the A84 at the Trossachs.

“One of the reasons why there’s so many deaths, particularly around the Trossachs, is that there’s motorcyclists out at the weekend, going too fast on a nice country route, and motorcycle crashes are nearly always fatal.

“We do have to keep targeting the worst roads.

“We know that speed cameras work, and we know that good engineering works.

“But we also have to look at drivers as most crashes are caused by driver error.”

According to the IAM, a relatively small proportion of drivers refresh their skills by taking courses designed to keep driving as a skill for life.

The IAM say this is something it is keen to push but the fact remains that the vast majority will drive for 60, 70 or even 80 years after passing just one test.