THE notion of cars that can safely navigate motorways and other roads without a human driver behind the wheel still seems to some people like a futuristic sci-fi idea. But self-driving cars are already a reality, of course, and in Britain the Westminster Government is determined to see fully self-driving vehicles on our roads by 2021. A few months ago it unveiled plans for an autonomous bus service on the Forth Road Bridge.

The autonomous vehicle (AV) industry is potentially colossal, with one recent estimate suggesting that it could be worth as much as $7 trillion by 2050. Forecasts have been made that AVs will have a beneficial impact on the annual global total of traffic fatalities, said to be around 1.3 million – especially given that the vast majority of these are attributable to human error.

But the problems thrown up by AVs have been debated endlessly. What will be the effect on global car-ownership when combined with the rise in popularity of services such as Uber? How much will it cost to get our roads infrastructure and mobile-network coverage ready to cope with AVs? Who exactly would be to blame in the event of an accident? What will be the effect on car insurance? Will there have to be sweeping amendments to existing road regulations? How will AVs deal with a deep pothole? Can AVs deal with unpredictable jaywalkers? How safe will cyclists be? The death of a woman killed by an Uber self-driving vehicle in Arizona last year has done nothing to quell many concerns.

As the Scottish Law Commission says today, the startling new technology that has enabled self-driving cars raises a host of legal and ethical questions which the public has yet to engage with. Driverless cars, some lawyers assert, could could be programmed to make moral decisions about who to collide with in an accident.

These are not trifling concerns, easily dismissed. Clearly, much remains to be explored and addressed before AVs become a quotidian reality.