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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 15, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 15 March 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Driverless Cars, Point of Order, Business Motion, South of Scotland Economic Partnership, Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time


Driverless Cars

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10471, in the name of Ivan McKee, on driverless cars bringing transformative change to Scotland. I ask members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak button now. We do not have the aid of technology to do that yet, so members still have to use their fingers.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes reports that automated transport, including driverless cars, will be on the roads in the UK in 2021 and will be commonplace in Scotland by 2030; considers that this development will represent more than a simple transport revolution, with significant and fundamental implications for society, the economy, jobs, transport policy, environment and energy policy, space planning, safety and privacy, and notes the belief that steps must be taken now to explore all of the opportunities and challenges that these developments will bring so that people in the Glasgow Provan constituency and across Scotland can fully benefit from being at the forefront of what it sees as the coming transformative change.


Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

I am delighted to lead the debate. It is not often that we get the opportunity to start with a largely blank piece of paper and shape our future. We are all aware of automation and understand that it is coming, perhaps faster than we think, but although automation offers opportunities, there are many threats, in particular to existing jobs. In general terms, the challenges can seem daunting and difficult to grasp. By focusing on one technology, as we are doing this afternoon, we can explore specific challenges and opportunities, and map out a path forward, with detailed actions and milestones to make sure that we take advantage of that new technology and it does not take advantage of us. Let us be clear: this debate is not about whether we think autonomous vehicles are a good or a bad idea. If they are coming—and all the evidence says that they are—our job is to find ways to mitigate their downsides and exploit the opportunities that they present for all of society.

Throughout history, disruptive transformations in transport technology have driven significant economic development, from the digging of the canal infrastructure in the 1790s, the roll-out of the railways in the 1840s and the rise of the automobile in the early 1900s, to the expansion of commercial air travel from the 1950s. From the 1990s, the internet, transporting information rather than people and goods, is the latest transport revolution to drive economic growth. We are due another such disruptive transformation and we need to be prepared.

Let us imagine for a moment what the average personal transport experience of the near future might look like. A person might own a car or have a contract with a car lease or car share company, either as a part share or as pay-as-you-go. A person who owns a car might send it out to work to generate income for them. People will use an app on their mobile device to order up a vehicle as needed. The total number of vehicles on the road will be much lower than it is today, but each car will do a lot more miles, and the number of vehicles available for hire will be 10 or 20 times what it is today. In most areas, no one will have to wait more than two or three minutes for a car to turn up at their door. In fact, a person might order several vehicles—one to take them to work, another for their spouse and a third to take their children directly to school, meaning no more school runs.

Without the need for driver interface, cars will look nothing like they do today. They will be a comfortable pod-type design, in which a person sits in the back, as they would in a hackney cab or a limo, perhaps working or relaxing. The vehicle will know what radio station or music a person likes to listen to, and their email, or a favourite film or television show, will be available on the in-car terminal. Travel time will become hugely more productive. Because the car is connected to all the other vehicles on the road, it knows the fastest way to work and how to avoid traffic. Traffic management systems, which at the moment involve expensive infrastructure that is designed to manage drivers’ erratic behaviour, are far simpler.

Autonomous vehicles will not just affect our relationship with man’s best friend—his or her car—but go far beyond our personal transport experience. Ninety-seven per cent of a car’s time is spent parked. Self-drive will transform our cities, enabling higher housing density. Garages and multistorey car parks can become spare rooms and blocks of flats. Driveways and parking lots can become gardens and parks. Lines of parked cars can be replaced by cycle lanes. Ironically, self-drive will give us more space and scope to promote active travel solutions.

On energy, our concerns about sufficient charging points for electric vehicles and how to manage peak demand will be much reduced. Self-drive vehicles will take themselves to charging warehouses and top up their batteries to help smooth demand and meet supply. Infrastructure spend will be revolutionised. Interconnected autonomous vehicles, without erratic drivers behind the wheel, will use road space much more efficiently. The same amount of traffic that currently clogs up our three-lane highways will flow smoothly along a single lane. We can see that the advent of self-drive will affect all sectors; indeed it is only a matter of time until someone writes a country and western song in which a guy’s truck leaves him, too.

In the area of inequalities, the impacts could be significant and to our advantage if we grab the initiative now rather than let others exploit the technology first. People with disabilities, including sight loss, will be able to access personal transport on the same basis as everyone else. Those growing old and frail need not worry about losing access to their vehicles. Without the cost of the driver, the cost of private hire will come tumbling down, providing affordable connectivity to those on low incomes in peripheral housing schemes. Let us not forget the more than 1 million road deaths annually, 94 per cent of which are caused by driver error. We owe it to those to move towards this vastly safer technology as soon as possible.

Scotland was at the forefront of the first two transport revolutions that I mentioned earlier. Our canals enabled raw materials to move to population centres and ports, and our railways enabled movement of manufactured goods to market. The economic boost from both those innovations generated wealth that, to some extent and notwithstanding its unequal distribution, we are still living off today.

The innovators behind the last two transport revolutions came from these islands: Frank Whittle invented the jet engine and Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet. Sadly, we failed to take the lead in exploiting those 20th century technologies as we had done with other technologies in earlier centuries. We must not miss the boat next time round.

I am glad that so many members are taking part in the debate. Over the next 40 minutes or so, I look forward to hearing members raise impacts and opportunities that had not occurred to me.

I want to press the minister to consider taking specific actions. My asks would be that Government resource is applied to the technology not just to maintain a watching brief on autonomous vehicle developments elsewhere but to work with local government, think tanks, the private sector and others in Scotland.

The Government needs to identify at-risk sectors and businesses and to work with them to identify business transition plans supported by necessary investments. It also needs to identify business opportunities and careers of the future, and I set the Government’s innovation unit a challenge to come up with a list of 100 such new careers. Perhaps it could run a competition to raise awareness and spark entrepreneurial innovation.

The Government also needs to quantify those impacts, introduce actions with a view to putting Scotland in the driving seat—the self-driving seat—on the technology, and understand how our tax and social security systems would deal with that new world. At some point—sooner, rather than later—a moonshot statement setting out publicly a determination for Scotland to be the first country in the world to create a 100 per cent self-drive city would be very welcome.

Opportunities like this come along every half century or so. They can utterly transform our wealth and wellbeing, but only if we are proactive and move quickly. Let us not miss the boat.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

First, I congratulate Ivan McKee on securing the time to debate this fascinating topic. A few short years ago, this debate would have been relegated to sci-fi fan circles and online message boards; now, driverless vehicles and the wider topic of artificial intelligence are among the key issues that are being discussed in our universities, in the private sector and in our justice systems and political institutions.

Rapidly accelerating artificial intelligence and robotics research is transforming our world and our transport network is not immune to its advance. It was even suggested at last year’s Scotland’s Futures Forum programme launch that, by 2030, driving will be a pursuit of leisure alone and that all professional drivers will be redundant. That undoubtedly raises questions about the direct impact of the technology on Scottish jobs, particularly the tens of thousands of people in Scotland who are licensed heavy goods vehicle or taxi drivers, or who transport people, goods and even takeaway food.

Part of our preparation for the driverless revolution must be to ensure that the profits that are gained are not simply absorbed by car companies and technology giants but channelled back into our economy to drive investment and generate employment.

A driverless transport network could be good news for those who find driving inaccessible: the young, elderly, people with mobility issues or disabilities that prevent them from driving, and a number of MSPs who I understand do not have a driving licence.

Communication between automated cars could create a network that optimises traffic flow and eases congestion, meaning that we will be free to perform other tasks while travelling and get from A to B more quickly. Safety may also improve once human error is removed from the equation, even if many of us, including me, may still have doubts about putting our lives in the hands of a machine.

Automated vehicles will lead to a revolution not only in our transport network, but in our commercial and residential spaces, as Ivan McKee has mentioned. Just as the arrival of cars created huge demographic shifts and preceded the construction of motorways to connect our cities and parking spaces to facilitate commuter lifestyles, a fleet of driverless vehicles could dramatically reshape urban planning.

A report by engineering consultancy firm WSP suggested autonomous vehicles could free up 15 to 20 per cent of the United Kingdom’s developable land, throwing up boundless opportunities for new homes, workplaces and green space. Given that, I am surprised that the Greens are not here to participate in the debate.

High-end cars are programmed with more than 100 million lines of computer code, which will increase exponentially with the arrival of driverless cars. That leads to interesting and unexpected questions about the practical and moral implications of the technology. How, for example, are we to programme cars with an understanding of moral philosophy? If an autonomous car is on a crowded motorway and knows that it is about to crash, how will it decide which other car to collide with?

That is a modern imagining of the old ethical puzzle known as the trolley problem whereby a runaway trolley barrels down railway tracks. Ahead are five people, who are tied up and unable to move, and the trolley is headed straight for them. Another person is standing some distance off, next to a lever; if they pull the lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks, but there is someone else tied up on that side track. The person at the lever has two options: either do nothing, in which case the trolley kills the five people on the main track; or pull the lever, diverting the trolley on to the side track, where it will kill one. Which is the ethical choice? Of course, there are many variables. For example, who are the people who have been tied up? It is a difficult choice, so how would a machine fare?

Most of us are either excited about this new technology and the opportunities that it presents or afraid of its consequences for our economy and the fabric of society itself. However, with a proactive approach, I believe that Scotland can help to shape the development of automation. By investing in education and encouraging technological innovation, we can strengthen our talent base and guarantee that Scottish design and excellence are at the forefront of technological advances. We must also protect low-paid, low-skilled workers from being swept aside by the inevitable influx of automated labour.

What sets us mortals apart from machines is our creativity, and our ability to design innovative solutions to problems, weigh up risks and take a leap of faith when we believe in our vision. Only by harnessing what makes us unique and making the right choices before the dawn of this technology can we lead the way instead of being left behind. This debate will be neither the beginning nor the end of the Scottish Parliament’s discussion on the topic of automation, but rather the start of a serious and long-term consideration of the opportunities and challenges that it presents.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I apologise in advance to the chamber if my voice gives up halfway through this speech. I think that this week’s events are taking a toll on my larynx.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Where is Miles Briggs when you need him?

Jamie Greene


I am fascinated by the utopia that Ivan McKee has painted. The idea that our cars will talk to us and then take us where we want to go while we sit in the back, listening to our favourite radio show—in my case, “The Archers”—or catching up with our standard responses and motion signing sounds wonderful. It would free up so much of my time, given the hours of my life that I spend on the M8.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

Will the member give way?

Jamie Greene

The minister is welcome to tell me how wonderful the trains are.

Humza Yousaf

Can I suggest public transport—the trains, for example—as a solution to having to drive on the M8?

Jamie Greene

I commend the minister for his endeavours. However, the problem is that, with the jobs that we have, we need, like many other people, to get from A to B to C to D, and that might not be easy with public transport. It is a genuine concern, but the question of how we can get people out of cars altogether is probably one for another day.

It is not really true that this is a thing of the future—it is actually a thing of today. I have been in a Tesla car. If members have not done so, they should try what I found to be a fascinating and wonderful experience. These cars already have the technology and engineering to drive themselves, but they do not have the software, because legislation dictates that the cars cannot self-drive. The fact is that these cars can, in many cases, and in some countries, they do.

In this debate, though, we should look not only at the positive aspects but at what might be the consequences and implications of having more driverless cars on the roads. The positive aspects include the environmental benefits, which have already been outlined. The fact that the majority of these cars will be hybrid or electric is also positive, because it means that they are safe and environmentally friendly. However, although we should welcome these changes, we should also be wary of the potential downsides of the technology.

Something that I noticed when I lived in London for a period was the way in which many of the terraced houses had had their gardens converted into driveways, simply because there was not enough parking. That led to a decline in London’s bee population, and the idea that we could reverse those trends and get more green space is great.

As for the economic and industrial issues behind this, it is inevitable that driverless cars and vehicles will lead to a decline in paid driving jobs, which will have an effect. Of course, it will be argued that the people in that workforce will adapt and do other things with their time. However, before there were cars, people travelled by horse and carriage, and the introduction of cars did not lead to horses finding new jobs. It probably led to a decline in horse employment. Some might think that that would be a blessing—not least the horses. It creates an interesting dilemma. What do we do with people who currently drive for a living? So many people in Scotland currently drive for a living, whether they are taxi drivers, hauliers or delivery drivers.

Ivan McKee

I understand the member’s point about horses, but we really should think about the people who looked after the horses, of whom there were many hundreds of thousands in those days, and who found new jobs servicing cars.

Jamie Greene

That is exactly my point. Those people had to retrain. We should be thinking about what we have to train the workforce today to be able to do tomorrow, when they are no longer able to drive cars or no longer want to. What are the new careers and opportunities? What infrastructure are we putting in place to ensure that people have the right skills?

We should also consider what happens when or if it goes wrong. I hope that other members will talk about that. What are the consequences for liability and culpability? What are the consequences for insurance and how we pay for that? What are the consequences for our roads and how we invest in road infrastructure? I hope that driverless cars are able to avoid potholes—particularly the ones in North Ayrshire.


David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I congratulate Ivan McKee on securing today’s debate. I thank him for his interesting and stimulating speech. I learned a lot from it. I particularly liked his reference to the country and western song. Could we call it “I lost my heart to a driverless Ford Mustang”? Perhaps I should not give up the day job.

For the past eight years I have championed the cause of road safety, not only across the Highlands and Islands, but across Scotland as a whole. As members may know, I became involved in the issue back in 2010 when two teenagers were tragically killed in a collision in Inverness. As part of that work, I set up the north of Scotland driver awareness scheme, which involved more than 25 road safety initiatives, such as the graduated licence scheme. I am interested in anything that makes roads safer, so I thank Ivan McKee for initiating the debate and the members who have spoken so far for their speeches.

Are autonomous vehicles and driverless cars safe and are they a step in the right direction? Although there is no doubt that fully autonomous self-driving vehicles are on their way, there is concern that many of us may confuse assisted driving technologies with automated driverless vehicles. Assisted driving technologies could include the use of cruise control, lane-changing systems, automatic braking, collision avoidance systems and so on. The key is that the systems are designed to help the driver.

Where do I stand in the debate? As cars are becoming more and more sophisticated and drivers are more and more supported by driving technology, it is only a matter of time before we see fully automated cars. As Ivan McKee said, the facts speak for themselves: 90 per cent of road collisions are caused by driver behaviour and driver error. That clearly shows that human beings are not totally up to the job, but it is a big step to go over to automated cars completely.

Many would argue that we need better education and more driver assistance from technology. In the debate so far, we have not looked at the possibility of hackers breaking into the systems of an automated car and making the car do things that it should not. I believe that the industry is starting to look at that issue, and voices on the pro-automated cars side of the debate are pointing out that humans cause road collisions, so surely it is safer to rely on technology.

However, is it safer to hand over total control of a vehicle? To determine whether automated vehicles are safer than humans, researchers will need to establish a non-collision rate for both human drivers and the emerging driverless vehicles. I am all for any action that improves road safety. I am excited by the possibility of our streets eventually seeing fully automated vehicles that have passed stringent testing. However, for now, driver-assisted systems are with us for years to come, and those improved systems are very good.

For example, Volvo cars can detect a possible collision—be that with another vehicle or a pedestrian—and make the car brake and stop. We have cars that can alert us when we move out of a lane, and we have intelligent braking systems and cruise control. Those are all positive additions to making our roads safer for all.

In reality, the time for a person jumping into the rear seat of a vehicle and reading a newspaper while the vehicle drives off on its own is a long way off. There is much work on safety still to do. However, with our improved and increased high-tech support systems, we are moving in that direction. We will see automated vehicles on our roads in the not-too-distant future.

It is my belief that, to begin with, automated vehicles will form a system of automation that is similar to a tram system, in that they will be separated from other road vehicles and run along a set route between two points. The transport minister is in front of me, so I make a plea for an automated vehicle pilot between Inverness city and Inverness airport.

The chief executive of Tesla said:

“Where it gets tricky is that urban environment around 30 or 40 miles an hour. Right now it’s fairly easy to deal with things that are below 5 to 10 miles per hour, because we can do that with the ultrasonics—we just make sure it doesn’t hit anything”.

Things get more complicated at higher speeds.

In the immediate future, we will all benefit from partial autonomous technology such as lane-changing systems. Fully autonomous technology is still a distance away. It needs isolation, and testing in specially designed so-called cities, such as the one developed by the University of Michigan. As President John F Kennedy said,

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”


Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

I, too, congratulate Ivan McKee on securing this very interesting debate. The recent development of autonomous vehicles represents something of a transport revolution, and not just for those of us who had to take their driving test four times. Ivan is right to acknowledge that now is the time to consider the impact that autonomous vehicles will have on our society. Other members have drawn attention to the benefits that such vehicles offer, including reduced carbon emissions, less congestion and fewer road accidents, but there could be negative consequences, and a couple of members made note of those. Such improvements in technology can and probably will have an impact on jobs, so we need to ensure that the benefits of those improvements are spread across many different providers and that they accrue to society, rather than being concentrated in the hands of only a few companies. We will need to take account of those issues as we look towards the future and the many possible advantages.

When I looked at the subject, what stood out for me is the way in which autonomous and self-driving cars will allow us to radically transform the cities in which we live. For members who represent a city, as I do, that is a very exciting potential opportunity. Although automated vehicles will rewrite the rules of transport, they will also offer us the opportunity to reclaim the environment that surrounds us and shape our cities for tomorrow. Cities today are often dominated by cars, overbearing traffic, congestion and expansive multistorey car parks. The future of autonomous vehicles reimagines private car ownership—vehicle pods, as Ivan mentioned, capable of carrying several people at once, and less a personal car than a robotaxi. Summoned by phone, transport in future would centre around those shared journeys. By 2035, it is predicted that 80 per cent of people will use robotaxis and that urban car ownership will have fallen by 70 per cent. Much of the meaningful impact of alternative vehicles therefore relies on promoting their shared-use aspect, which would reduce the number of cars on the roads. That has to be a good thing.

What does that mean for our cities? It means an opportunity to reclaim the space that is currently used for traffic lanes, car parks and on-road parking. That would be a huge benefit in my constituency, Edinburgh Eastern. Cities that use only autonomous vehicles would need 90 per cent less space for parking, and by reclaiming almost all the 15 to 30 per cent of space that is used for car parks in cities, we open up possibilities for innovative development in urban areas. No longer would we need to choose between necessary housing and community spaces. We could offer not only creative housing but sports facilities, art projects, public squares and spaces. In doing so, we can create cities and public areas that prioritise the people who live in them, not their cars.

We can create city spaces and centres that are characterised by extended pedestrian areas, designated cycle lanes and green parks. In Brooklyn, in New York, the introduction of protected cycle lanes led to three times the number of cyclists and reduced injuries to road users caused by speeding and crashes by 60 per cent. In Copenhagen, four times as many people now cycle as drive. By encouraging those alternative uses for car space, we will be able to create healthier, greener towns and cities. For me, what is of particular interest is the prospect of future technological advances being used in that way to regenerate our communities and improve quality of life for all of us.


Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I congratulate Ivan McKee on securing today’s debate, which has verged between something from “Tomorrow’s World” and “The Jetsons”. It is quite clear that driverless cars will be an important development for the future.

There has been a deal of discussion on connected and autonomous vehicles—or CAVs—in recent years. A number of systems with varying levels of automation have already been demonstrated. I welcome the action that has been taken by the United Kingdom Government in investigating the future benefits of such vehicles and in equipping the UK for the regulatory change that the introduction of such vehicles might involve. The Department for Transport obviously has a key role, but many of the future benefits have been championed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. As the department’s secretary of state, Greg Clark, has highlighted, the UK industrial strategy will be a key driver—excuse the pun—of innovation in such new technology around our country, and it was welcome that it featured in the industrial strategy white paper. Greg Clark has set out a key ambition of making the UK the best place in the world in which to develop CAV technology.

As has been mentioned, some elements of the innovations are already emerging as assistive technologies in today’s vehicles—advanced road braking and lane-changing assistance spring to mind. In that role, they prevent accidents and lower the harm that can come from accidents. We have a proud record in that respect, as Britain’s roads are among the safest in the world. Much has changed over the decades since car ownership became commonplace. There will be much on our roads that will change in the future, and Ivan McKee is right that we should plan early to make changes for new technology.

There are clearly many such areas in which the Scottish and UK Governments can work together in making progress on preparing for the future and in sharing information to ensure that regulatory frameworks are in place to enable development and progress. Therefore, I welcomed the answer that the minister, Humza Yousaf, gave to my colleague Jamie Greene in 2016 in which he indicated that Transport Scotland was already working closely with the Department for Transport and the centre for connected and autonomous vehicles.

From the perspective of my Highlands and Islands region, there is enormous potential. In rural areas, driverless cars would be a positive development, helping to connect remote communities, lowering costs and making travel easier. The economic and social benefits could be significant and touch all parts of our local economy. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee cautioned that there was too great a political focus on driverless cars, when the benefits of autonomous vehicles were most likely to appear first in sectors such as the marine and agriculture sectors. I am aware that those sectors have been considered by colleagues around the chamber, but it is worth emphasising their importance in a region such as mine. We have a significant reliance on agriculture in particular, and new technology can have a major impact on efficiency.

It would be shortsighted to overlook the fact that significant barriers remain at this stage to the mass roll-out of driverless vehicles. As a result, I caution against too many glances into crystal balls today. The technology aspect is only one consideration among many. How our society and market forces respond to such vehicles will be interesting. Emergent technology is often accompanied by concerns, and there is little that is more unnerving than passing one’s safety entirely into the hands of an automated system. Surveys have shown a reluctance among many people, especially the older generation, to move towards such a loss of control on the roads.

The gains might be different from what we expect. It has been observed that a number of the benefits of automated vehicles will become apparent only when a critical mass of vehicles are automated—or, indeed, when all vehicles are automated. We can envisage far more precise and efficient movement on our roads, but those vehicles will, at least initially, still have to cope with human error and behaviour.

For some years now, there has been a move away from road transport, yet increases in road travel might again be a feature of our future transport planning. How our roads, town centres and businesses adapt to that will need an early response from the Scottish Government.


Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

I congratulate Ivan McKee on securing the debate. I welcome the tone that he took, which was very positive and energetic. Sometimes it is easy in Parliament and, I imagine, in the Government to deal with day-to-day business by becoming managerial, but we have to set a vision and an agenda for the future.

Although I recognise the comments that Jamie Halcro Johnston made about the issue sitting somewhere between “Tomorrow’s World” and “The Jetsons”, Ivan McKee’s motion makes reference to 2030, which is only 12 years hence. Members should think back 12 years ago to how many of us were using Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. Further, we could not have predicted the disruptive impact that Netflix would have not just on how we consume digital content but on how it is generated.

The issue of automation that we are talking about today is the way in which vehicles would be piloted by computers as opposed to people. However, automation has been with the automobile industry for a long time and automation of the manufacturing of automobiles is a significant part of that. I can relate to that. My constituency is home to Linwood, which is synonymous with a car plant being closed down because it was deemed to be economically inefficient and with the huge unemployment and other issues that followed from that. The concerns about disruption and the impact on existing jobs are serious and we must consider them carefully. It is important that we do not react to them in an alarmist fashion, but we must take cognisance of them. Ivan McKee made important suggestions about horizon scanning to ensure that we prepare and consider opportunities to reskill and retrain.

I will touch on some of the wider economic opportunities that the revolution will provide. It will necessitate the use of existing technologies, adaptations to existing technologies and, potentially, the development of new technologies.

One such example is the light detection and ranging—LIDAR—sensors that are essential to the way in which many driverless cars work. They are rather like a much more efficient and faster version of sonar in that they use light pulses to map surroundings. However, lately, there has been such demand for LIDAR sensors that producers of the devices have struggled to keep up and there have been six-month delays. The result of that is that a lot of start-ups could disrupt that market by moving to more solid-state technologies.

Scotland, of course, has had a strong sector for lasers and sensors. I am keen to consider ways in which our economy can benefit from the manufacturing of such devices. As the First Minister stated, we need not only to be consumers of the products of the future but to actively develop and engage with them.

There are economic opportunities, but there are also the economic threats that have been mentioned already, such as those posed to the haulage industry, public transport drivers such as bus drivers, taxi drivers and delivery drivers. We must consider how those threats interact with the gig economy. That speaks to broader issues about how we design our social security and taxation systems.

Jamie Greene

The member makes some interesting points about the types of things for which we use cars. Does he accept that there is a move to use not necessarily driverless vehicles but drones to do those things and that that market could replace some of the driving?

Tom Arthur

Absolutely. That is an excellent point. Amazon is already pioneering that approach. We cannot consider the matter in isolation.

Ivan made a very interesting point about the flipside. We consider the gig economy as, ultimately, a threat, but he put forward the idea of people considering their driverless vehicles as assets to be monetised by letting them out. That raises issues about the regulation of that market.

As other colleagues said, it is important that we ensure that the benefits that come from driverless vehicles and increased automation are enjoyed by all, not simply the companies that are at the cutting edge at the moment. All society should benefit from the change, and that includes the wider social benefits.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Due to the number of members remaining who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice under rule 8.14.3 of the standing orders to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Ivan McKee]

Motion agreed to.


Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

When I first read Ivan McKee’s motion, I was struck by the number of areas listed as likely to be impacted by the new technology of driverless cars as it moves from the pages of science fiction straight into being part of our daily lives.

On Tuesday, I saw on the BBC that the self-flying air taxi has been unveiled in New Zealand. It is abundantly clear that the future envisaged by writers and film-makers is fast becoming a reality. It is the responsibility of Governments around the world to recognise the impacts—good and bad—that that future holds. Such innovation and the pace of change currently attract a large amount of media attention as well as public debate but the implications of the technology go far beyond changing the way in which we move goods and people locally or around the world. As has always been the case when the world has witnessed massive technological change, there will be a wide-ranging impact as societies and economies around the globe learn to respond and adapt.

It is difficult to imagine all the potential consequences. However, we must anticipate the change that is coming and learn how best to work with it. Crucially, as the motion states, we must make sure that the benefits of the changing technology are available to all. By understanding the direction of change, we can anticipate any negative consequences, try to mitigate them and, at the same time, work with the positive consequences to deliver the best outcome for society as a whole.

There are benefits for individuals. Will Hutton, chair of the Big Innovation Centre and principal of Hertford College at the University of Oxford, has optimistically pointed out that

“Roads will be able to carry more traffic”

and be safer and

“your car will deliver you to your home or place of work and then park itself without you. Road accidents will plummet. Energy efficiency will be transformed. Insurance rates ... even the need for insurance”

will plunge. However, Mr Hutton also highlights the risks. All sorts of jobs involving maintaining conventional cars will disappear. The cars themselves will be made by robots in automated car factories. The new jobs will be in the design and marketing of the cars, and in writing the computer software that will allow them to navigate their journeys, along with the apps for our mobile phones that will help us to use them better.

Automation is a very real concern, and possibly one of the biggest issues facing us as a society as we move forward through the 21st century. As has always been the case, workers can suffer as a result of technological advancements. At the dawn of the industrial revolution, workers’ rights were virtually non-existent. It was through the hard work of trade unions and the labour movement that safer, better working conditions were won.

The world that we live in today owes a great deal to those who fought for it from within our movement. As we move forward, we must work to ensure that technological advancements are to the benefit of all and that workers are not left on the sidelines. We know in which direction technology is moving, so we must plan accordingly. That means developing a skilled workforce now, from an early age, able to work in the world of tomorrow.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I add my congratulations to Ivan McKee on securing the debate. As an MSP for the rural South Scotland region, I spend a lot of time in my car on the A75, A76, A77 and other roads, driving to visit farms and rural businesses. I know that the minister has those roads on his radar already.

I welcome Ivan McKee’s description of the potential for my journeys to be more productive with the assistance of technology, perhaps making my journey about more than just driving from A to B. Although the technological developments behind the driverless-car revolution are fascinating, the implications for our society are perhaps even more interesting.

First, it might seem counterintuitive, but some of the studies show that driverless cars are actually safer. Some people might think that that would not be the case, but they might result in fewer people being killed in road accidents every year. Our streets might be clearer, too, and many experts predict that car ownership will become a rare phenomenon. Instead, people will hire cars, or transport may be delivered as a service by companies that own fleets of self-driving or driverless vehicles.

Because the cars will be electric, they will help us to cut carbon emissions dramatically. As a former member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee I would welcome the reduction in carbon emissions.

As a registered nurse, I am interested in how driverless cars can be revolutionary for healthcare. Experts predict that health-related sensors installed in vehicles could detect various medical and health-related conditions. As soon as the passenger enters the vehicle, the sensors can pick up their vital signs, for instance.

When an emergency medical situation develops, ambulance response times could be dramatically improved. In addition, ambulances, like any vehicle on the road, face obstacles, including drivers who do not obey the law when they see or hear an emergency vehicle coming. Self-driving automated vehicles that are controlled by an integrated system might open a path to allow an ambulance through.

Jamie Greene

I apologise; I seem to be intervening a lot, but it is a fascinating subject with lots of areas that we could probe. I have always been fascinated that cars do not contain automatic breathalysers that make it impossible to drive or even start a car if they detect alcohol on the driver’s breath. Does the member have views on that?

Emma Harper

A driverless car would not need a breathalyser in it. I am not sure that I understand the intervention. Cars are available that require people to blow into breathalysers before the ignition can be turned on, but we are talking about driverless cars, which I imagine would not need such technology.

I want to bring the debate back to driverless cars. I was talking about automatic vehicles that are controlled by an integrated system. We want to ensure that, in emergency situations, people can focus on support and healthcare.

I give another example. A person who needed dialysis could be picked up from their home on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and transported to hospital for their dialysis appointment. The health aspects of the technology could be good, in helping elderly drivers to get outside and engage. For example, a driverless vehicle could support a person with dementia to continue to go about their daily routine. As we age, our ability to react quickly can deteriorate, which can have an enormous impact on people’s lives. A study in America showed that people who had had their driving licences taken away from them were more likely to experience depression. Driverless cars might support better care for people by enabling them to continue to access open spaces.

The legislative and regulatory frameworks on autonomous vehicles are reserved to the UK Government, but I am pleased that the minister has indicated support for and encouragement of research, development and testing. This is an exciting time, and I would love the Scottish Government to engage proactively on the issue. I welcome Ivan McKee’s motion.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I thank Ivan for bringing this debate to the chamber—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

May I just stop you there? I have been letting this slip through, but we need full names in the chamber. I know that today’s debate is quite chummy, but I do not want it to be as chummy as that.

Finlay Carson

I thank Ivan McKee, and I am pleased that there was a parking space left to enable me to contribute on an important subject. The only problem is that four or five minutes is nothing like enough time for me to talk about all the exciting possibilities. I think that driverless cars absolutely are the future and are just round the next bend in the road. Indeed, I think that we are accelerating in that direction.

As Jamie Halcro Johnston and other members said, the issue is not just the technology but the legal and social aspects of driverless cars.

I want to concentrate on where we are now. Many bog-standard family cars are already controlled to a great extent by technology that almost enables the car to drive itself. We have satnav that provides pinpoint accuracy about where the car is placed on the road. We have lane-sensing radar, as we heard, which can adjust the steering wheel with minimal input from the driver. We have cruise control that speeds up or slows down the car with no manual intervention. No doubt anyone who has cruise control will have relied on the maximum speed option to ensure that they have not exceeded the 30mph limit, or that they have complied with the limit in an average speed zone.

Cars can park themselves—although in Edinburgh it might be more useful to have cars that can find parking spaces; I think that that technology is not far away. Automatic collision avoidance, which means that a car never collides with anything, is present in a lot of top-of-the-range models. We have the technologies; all we need to do is join them up to get fully autonomous cars.

As my party’s spokesman for the digital economy, I can see that this technology has extremely wide-reaching benefits for all our communities, rural and urban. Car technology is constantly evolving, as is how we use data and big data. In the very near future, if it is not already happening in some of our cities, the data for our journeys will be stored anonymously and used in computer modelling systems to control air quality and cut congestion in our urban areas.

Furthermore, if we are looking to cut the number of vehicles on our roads, this is a perfect opportunity to consider driverless HGVs travelling in automated convoys, braking and accelerating together, and controlled by a driver in a lead vehicle. It would be a fantastic way to cut congestion and emissions. HGVs could use roads during the night and in the early morning rather than clogging up major routes at peak times. There are issues about lorry convoys, but they are not insurmountable, and as more vehicles become autonomous, computers will be able to manage traffic to minimise travel times and reduce delays.

For people who live in rural areas, having access to a car is pretty much a prerequisite, particularly because there are poor, or non-existent, public transport links in some rural communities. Automated cars could revolutionise rural life and take away the social isolation that we currently see.

It is not just our rural areas that will benefit. Our major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, could save up to £45 million a year by reducing the amount of road crashes, according to a report by engineering company Parsons Brinckerhoff. We cannot put a price on saving a life, but a saving of £45 million a year and a reduction in the number of accidents sounds like not too bad a place to start.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said in last year’s budget that he wants to see driverless cars on our roads by 2021. That might seem to be ambitious, but as members will know from what I have already said, I do not think that it is. Rolling out driverless cars could be one of the most ambitious things that Scotland has ever done. With Scotland known around the world for being a nation of innovators, this could be another feather in our cap—we could lead the driverless car revolution. A number of car manufacturing companies were based in my constituency, in Galloway, but unfortunately they are long gone. We might see them coming back.

I share Ivan McKee’s ambitions. Plans are progressing at a rapid rate, so it is important that we are having the debate to explore all the ways in which Scotland could benefit from such transformational change.


The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

I join others in thanking Ivan McKee for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate. It has been an incredibly interesting, insightful and energetic debate by all who have spoken. There is a lot of food for thought for all of us, but I want to give reassurance that some of the work is happening at governmental level—we are doing it in the Scottish Government and we are working very closely with the UK Government on the matter. I will touch on that in a second.

I have meetings with a number of transport stakeholders. Ivan McKee was absolutely right to say that irrespective of whether people are in favour of or opposed to the idea of connected and autonomous vehicles, those vehicles are coming, and everybody understands that they are coming. However, there are still some doubters, so I will touch on some of the potential challenges that exist in respect of autonomous automated vehicles in order, perhaps, to dispel some misconceptions and reassure people in relation to some of their doubts. For people who do not believe that autonomous cars will be advantageous, one of the strongest arguments for them was made by Ivan McKee, when he said that they could banish the school run. I think that we would all agree that that would not be a bad thing.

On the opportunities that will be created by connected and automated vehicles, there will be fewer crashes on our roads. A number of statistics have been produced, ranging from human error being a factor in 85 per cent of all reported vehicular incidents through to its being a factor in 95 per cent of such incidents. Whatever statistic we use, we can agree that the vast majority of road accidents are down to human error. As Finlay Carson rightly said, we cannot put a price on a life being saved, but autonomous cars could certainly be a huge advantage.

There is also the opportunity of freedom to travel for people who currently find it difficult to do so; Finlay Carson and Emma Harper mentioned that in the context of rural areas in particular, as did a couple of other members. There is also an advantage when we think about people who have mobility problems.

We could also have more efficient road networks that would be safer, smoother and swifter. A good example is HGV platooning, which Finlay Carson mentioned. Avoiding stop-start congestion would reduce the environmental impact of driving.

Many members have spoken about whether driverless cars would have a negative or positive effect on jobs. I will come on to talk about some of the stats, but I consider that the advantages from driverless cars would include the creation of new jobs and technology, with the automotive sector building on Scotland’s strong reputation for innovation and scientific excellence.

We are absolutely right to always be ambitious for Scotland. However, the transformation is in its infancy. It is likely that the initial cost of products would be prohibitive for the majority of people. Markets will adapt, but how quickly they will do so remains to be seen. I am sceptical about some of the timeframes, but as many members have said, it is better that Scotland is in the automated driving seat—or whatever pun we want to use—and ahead of the curve, as opposed to lagging behind. As the First Minister set out in our programme for government, she wants people in Scotland to be the innovators and the producers of the technology, not just the consumers of it.

Many members have asked about the jobs that could come as a result of this transformational transport revolution. According to research that was commissioned by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, connected and autonomous vehicles could bring wide economic benefits, including an estimated £51 billion a year and more than 320,000 jobs by 2030. Again, we might want to take those figures with a little pinch of salt, but even if half those benefits are realised, we would be talking about billions of pounds coming into the UK economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs being created.

The Government is very much open for business for trials of connected and autonomous vehicles, and we are keen to explore that with the UK Government. We are in discussion with the centre for connected and autonomous vehicles, Scottish Enterprise and many others, about how we can facilitate trials, demonstration projects and pilots in Scotland. A number of members have suggested where in their constituencies or regions those trials could take place, and they should continue to pass those ideas to us.

Ivan McKee laid down a couple of challenges for the Government in relation to driverless cars. Although we are doing a fair bit of work, particularly with stakeholders, I am committed to holding a connected and autonomous vehicle demonstration summit in 2018, which will showcase international developments and explore with the transport industry how Scotland can best position itself to realise the benefits. At the summit, we will be seeking the opportunity to support a trial, which will potentially be with the freight and logistics sectors. I will ensure that every member who has spoken in the debate is given information about the summit. If members are able to attend the summit, we will be delighted to have them.

Jamie Greene

Will the minister take an intervention?

Humza Yousaf


The Deputy Presiding Officer

This issue is obviously of great interest to you, Mr Greene.

Jamie Greene

I hope that it is of interest to everyone.

The SNP Government has just presided over the building of substantial infrastructure improvements to the M8, M74 and M73. Are those motorways capable of accommodating driverless vehicles such as the ones to which Finlay Carson referred? What planning for driverless vehicles was undertaken when the infrastructure improvements were being designed and built?

Humza Yousaf

There is, if I am honest, a way to go in achieving that. As was mentioned in the programme for government and the First Minister’s statement, we are making the A9, which we are dualling, the first electric highway. Perhaps, when we consider future infrastructure projects, we should be looking to create the first autonomous highway.

There is more work to be done. We are introducing intelligent transport systems—we have one across the Forth, and we are trying to see where else we can roll out such systems. Although accommodating driverless vehicles has not been part of the initial design of infrastructure projects, that is not to say that that cannot be bolted on afterwards. As I said, we have a way to go; Jamie Greene has raised a good point.

As time is very short, I want to reassure members about the legal framework. We are having conversations about that. Transport Scotland is working the Scottish Law Commission, which is progressing a joint three-year review, alongside the Law Commission of England and Wales, of driving laws and preparation of self-driving vehicles. It aims to deliver by 2021 a modern and robust package of reforms promoting automated vehicles and their use as part of public transport networks and on-demand passenger services. The two law commissions will work closely with the centre for connected and autonomous vehicles in developing the policy proposals. As I said, we are very much part of that work.

I again thank Ivan McKee for securing the debate. I will ensure that members are given an invitation to the summit that will take place later this year. Every member has reiterated that Scotland is well placed to take advantage of this technological revolution. I hope that we just get on with it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I thank members for their contributions—it has been a very interesting and wide-ranging debate.

13:45 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—