HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
Though technological change over the past half century has been immense, with computers and smartphones now seemingly indispensable, the way we get from place to place is largely unchanged. Trains may now be electric and high speed, but they still run on the same track; airplanes are high-tech and carry more people at cheaper prices, but still fly at similar speeds to the same destinations.
Cars, too, are largely unchanged; we may now enjoy power-assisted steering and cruise control, but vehicles themselves have altered little. The vast majority of us still drive motors with engines powered by oil-derived fuel, exactly as the generation before did.
Now we may be on the cusp of a radical change with the shift towards hybrid, electric and autonomous cars gathering speed. As the lifespan of batteries grows, and their cost falls, it will become more affordable for drivers to choose electric cars. Support from Government for low emission vehicles is vital, which is why the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill I am taking through Parliament is designed to ensure that there are more places to charge these cars.
People often cite insufficient charging points and doubts about different types of connectors as reasons for not buying an electric car.
In rural areas, like ours, these obstacles can seem particularly great to possible buyers. To give motorists confidence about these new low emission vehicles will mean that their numbers grow, so improving air quality for us all.
Still more exciting is the prospect of autonomous vehicles. Anticipated in popular fiction for years – from Herbie the Love Bug to Knight Rider – vehicles which drive themselves for all or part of the time are now becoming a fact. Driverless technology could profoundly transform journeys, cutting accidents and making traffic flow more smoothly.
Most exciting of all is the opportunity to travel they could provide for those currently prohibited from doing so by disability or infirmity. The wellbeing of isolated, elderly and disabled people can be transformed as they are empowered by greater mobility.
Eventually, a change in what we drive could metamorphosize the way we think about the places in which we live. If autonomous vehicles become a shared resource, car parks – which take up prime space in the heart of towns and cities – may become unnecessary, thus providing opportunities to develop valuable brownfield land. Commuting patterns may also shift radically.
Some might see all this as futuristic and distant, but research and development in the car industry is well advanced and Britain can be a world leader in developing these innovative technologies. The future is never pre-determined and it can be ours.