Partner at innovative City law firm says job fears halting the development of driverless cars in India should not have the same effect in the UK

A Partner at an innovative City of London law firm, which is one of the first in the UK to have a team dedicated to autonomous vehicles and drones, has said job fears should not halt the development of driverless cars in the UK.

Rufus Ballaster, a Partner at Carter Lemon Camerons LLP, commented after the Indian transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, said the government “will not allow any technology that takes away jobs.”

Rufus said that the situation in India is significantly different from that facing the UK.

“India is a brilliant country to visit and I have been there many times in my life, but its roads are some of the few I refuse to drive on. When in India, I take public transport of an auto-rickshaw, taxi or a private car ‘with driver’ in order to get around.

“What is more, there remains a lot of unemployment and underemployment in India. If significant numbers of people making a living from driving others were at risk of losing their livelihood to driverless vehicular traffic, it may have an impact,” said Rufus.

He added: “At a time when there is a worldwide focus on India and its modern history, we can see the concern at wanting a productive local workforce – the Indian Independence Movement made a strong case for ending a system in which cheap, good quality, local cloth was left unsold while more expensive British imported cloth was purchased.”

In contrast, Rufus said that the UK is a very different market and so it does not make sense to emulate Indian scepticism about driverless cars.

“Here we have seen waves during history of fear of mass unemployment and economic woe from agriculture becoming a low employment, highly mechanised business, of production line systems in manufacturing improving output per worker in ways which led to reduced employment in that sector and repeated more recently with the introduction of robotic alternatives to human labour in factories.

“Time after time, we have worried that a change in one or more sectors will lead to mass unemployment. However, in summer 2017, the UK has record levels of employment and for modern times, very low levels of people available for and seeking work, compared to jobs being advertised,” said Rufus.

He added: “It should not be forgotten that driverless vehicles will produce employment. The vehicles themselves must be designed, built and sold.

“When they operate as fleets for hire, the infrastructure and business running them will require workers at all sorts of levels from customer service queries, up to main board directors. The vehicles will need to be serviced.

“Over time, it is highly likely that the road infrastructure will be changed to facilitate freight and human motion in a driverless environment. Some freight, or even passenger traffic may even take to the skies in pilotless flight – drone transportation – as the city of Dubai expects to launch during 2017.

“In the short team at least, one could reasonably expect more new jobs to be created during the transition to driverless than the number of jobs lost by it.”

Rufus said: “My colleagues and I in a team focused on the drone, robotic and driverless technology sector at Carter Lemon Camerons LLP, think that regardless of India’s emulation of King Knut’s approach to the ebb and flow of technology, the UK should embrace rather than resist driverless vehicles and pilotless flight.”