The Department of Transport’s recent announcement that self-drive cars could be on UK roads by the end of 2021 should prove to be the beginning of a new era in driving. The first self-driving technology to be legalised will be automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS), which controls the speed and position of a car in a single lane up to speeds of 37 mph.

While drivers will not be required to keep their hands on the wheel or monitor the road when using ALKs technology, they will have to stay alert to their surroundings and be on standby to take over within 10 seconds when alerted by the system. If the driver fails to respond in this timeframe, the vehicle will automatically switch on the hazard lights to warn nearby traffic as it slows down to an eventual stop.

ALKs technology is similar to Tesla’s Autopilot, which provides self-driving technology at higher speeds, however, crucially the driver must remain fully attentive and keep their hands on the steering wheel.

Rewriting the rule book

This kind of technology will herald a completely new way of driving and approach to driver behaviour. Due to this The Highway Code and The Department of Transport are currently consulting on what new laws will be needed to make sure the technology is used safely. However, despite horror stories about driverless car crashes hitting the headlines recently, it’s thought that this kind of new technology will ultimately result in the roads being safer for drivers. Indeed, The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders estimates that automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next ten years.

NVH and driver behaviour

As driverless technology evolves, with drivers in theory being able to pay less and less attention to the road, the role of the driver will become increasingly similar to that of the passenger. This means that without their driving duties to occupy them, the driver will become more sensitive to any noise, vibration and harshness created in the vehicle as it moves. Not only that, as the driver experience begins to resemble the passenger experience, driver demand for comfort will also rise. Also, the fact that the rise of self-drive technology is set to coincide with a mass switch to quieter electric vehicles, means that any NVH issues in the car will be exacerbated as the masking effect of engine noise diminishes. This new challenge will be one that the NVH industry will rise to over the next few years.

A question of safety

As well as comfort, NVH will continue to have an important role in driver safety in the driverless era. Although most NVH issues do not result in sudden or loud explosions of noise, clearly a noise and vibration-free environment will be more important than ever when it comes to creating an environment where a driver needs to remain alert if not in control of the vehicle.

A new challenge for the NVH industry

As the UK embraces technology such as ALKS, there will be many opportunities for innovation and job creation as the technology evolves. And as ever, as the technology improves, the NVH solutions that are needed will change with it, resulting in the leaps and bounds in innovation which the NVH manufacturing industry is renowned for. One key consideration in the future will be how NVH solutions fit into the car interior of the future where driver comfort will mean something entirely different to what it has been since driving began; the needs of a driver who is working on a laptop as a car drives itself will be worlds away from the requirements of a driver at the wheel of a manual gear car with no power steering.

NVH solutions for the modern age

To find out more about Interflex’s products and services, including NVH and sealing solutions for vehicles including door seals, interior trim, under carpet and boot seals, please call us on 01949 861 494 or email sales@interflex2000.com.