New Keele research with UK Home Office studying impact of autonomous vehicles on UK policing
- Keele criminologist Dr Helen Wells will be working alongside the UK Home Office to study how rising numbers of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will impact policing in the UK.
- CAVs theoretically offer the potential to significantly improve road safety through eliminating driver error (a major cause of collisions), but the short-term reality is likely to be much more complex.
- Dr Wells will be funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for 18 months to explore the new opportunities and challenges that CAV use will present for policing in the UK, and hosted a high-level meeting of police and partner organisations this week to get the fellowship journey underway.
The long road to a fully autonomous future
A Keele criminologist is working alongside the UK Home Office to study how rising numbers of autonomous vehicles will impact the way that the UK is policed.
Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are becoming increasingly common in the UK. Some predictions estimate that around 40% of cars in the UK will have some kind of autonomous capability by 2035.
Whilst a striking statistic, this means that the short and medium term will be characterised by a mixed fleet of semi-autonomous, autonomous and driven vehicles – as well as other road user groups such as cyclists, pedestrians and equestrians who are often overlooked in the vision of a fully-autonomous future.
This shift has the potential to drastically change the way roads are used by the public and the police alike, as well as how offences are committed and investigated.
Multiple impacts on policing
The impact of these changes will be seen across various areas of policing including collision investigation, pursuits, covert investigations and patrolling functions, while a raft of new legislation will be needed to reflect the shifts in responsibility for what happens on our roads.
As well as the physical changes we will be able to see and experience, CAVs will also be connected to each other, to road infrastructure, and to the Cloud, presenting opportunities and challenges for criminal investigations.
Improving policing practice
Dr Wells’ work is being made possible thanks to a UKRI Policy Fellowship and builds on two decades of her previous work focused on the policing of roads. In the run up to the start of the Fellowship in January 2024, Keele has hosted a high-level roundtable of 20 representatives from UK policing and its partners in the public and private sector this week, focused on understanding and planning for CAVs.
Dr Wells said: “This is a great opportunity to bring a social science – and specifically criminological – understanding to an area that is as much about people as it is about technology. I’m delighted that the Home Office, and UKRI, have made this Fellowship possible and I can’t wait to get started.”
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