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The Future of Transport: How will driverless vehicles impact transport and logistics?

The Future of Transport: How will driverless vehicles impact transport and logistics?

As technological developments leap forward, and governments race to keep up, the automotive and logistics industries are facing new questions and opportunities when it comes to the impact of driverless vehicles. Whether for passenger or freight transport, the top three things shaping the impact of driverless vehicles are timescales, trends, and transforming perceptions.


With many clients in the transport sector, at DWF we have seen first-hand how the timescales of getting driverless vehicles on the road are constantly changing. Four years ago, the consensus was we wouldn’t expect to see driverless vehicles out of testing and on the road until 2030 or 2035, but this is rapidly being revised downwards as new developments break through and governments battle to reach the forefront of autonomous vehicle development.

Collisions, such as the recent killing of a pedestrian by a self-driving Uber vehicle in the United States, can be a major setback for timescales. Testing is likely to progress quickly in the UK, however, with the government competing to create the most amenable testing environments for the development of driverless vehicles. While we aren’t likely to see a truly sizeable uptake of autonomous vehicles on UK roads in the next twelve years or so, by 2021 we can certainly expect to see driverless vehicles become more common.

So which driverless vehicles will we see first – passenger or freight transport? Last year government funding was approved for an operational trial of platooning HGVs on UK roads, although passenger vehicle testing is progressing more quickly and has much more government funding. For this reason, it’s likely we’ll see driverless passenger vehicles appear earlier than freight transport.


Among many trends autonomous vehicles are bringing to logistics, the freight industry sees ‘platooning’ as the first step towards bringing driverless vehicles into the logistics world. Platooning technology is used to control the position of following vehicles and allow a fleet of vehicles to operate in closer proximity, offering huge potential benefits from a fuel, labour and insurance perspective.

Another trend facing the sector is the rise of ‘freight-as-a-service’ models. In a shift from 3PL to 4PL, logistics companies may increasingly have to adopt on demand ‘freight-as-a-service’ models for companies looking to procure one single provider for all their logistics needs. Accompanying this is the issue of HGV restrictions in urban areas, where the debate on driverless vehicles runs alongside the restriction of HGVs. This means it’s very possible that we can expect to see fleets of smaller delivery vehicles based at urban consolidation hubs.

Finally, the insurance aspect of driverless vehicles is a particularly hot topic. At DWF, we’ve seen that in order to keep up with this rapidly evolving industry the standard insurance policy should be extended to include a ‘fully autonomous mode’. This would be a big shift, revolving around the question of whether insurance would be bundled with the vehicle, as it is with a hire car, or if insurance would be sold by the manufacturer.

Transforming perceptions

Most people only hear about driverless vehicles when a collision or malfunction makes the headlines, leading people to associate driverless vehicles with collisions and injuries. There is a need for more thought leadership to increase awareness and positive attention around new developments and success stories about driverless vehicles. It’s for this reason DWF is partnering with the 2018 International Business Festival, to support the Festival’s day devoted to future transport. If we can support and grow the positive conversation around driverless vehicles and what they have to offer the transport and logistics industries, from there we can build public trust and understanding of driverless vehicles.

Public concern centres not only around physical safety but also the safety of their data. The data challenge associated with driverless vehicles affects both passenger and freight, as people find it a confusing and sometimes sensitive topic. Finding a way to educate the public about how types of driverless vehicles manage personal information is crucial to garnering public support for driverless vehicles among individuals and businesses.

These perception problems will remain a fundamental barrier to driverless vehicles until the public is equipped with more information on how these vehicles are designed and how they can transform people’s lives, far beyond the daily commute. With many questions and challenges ahead, one thing is clear: with the right support and proactive leadership, the future is bright for driverless vehicles in transportation and logistics.

Caroline Coates is a partner at international legal business DWF. Caroline will be speaking at the 2018 International Business Festival, on the Future Transport day, 19th June 2018. To find out more and buy tickets visit

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