Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Driverless car test call over New Forest animal deaths

Warning sign
Image caption A total of 63 animals died on New Forest roads in 2016.

The New Forest should be used to test driverless car technology in a bid to cut animal deaths, the National Park Authority (NPA) has said.

A total of 63 animals - including the area's famous New Forest ponies - died on forest roads in 2016.

Nigel Matthews, head of recreation management, said he would like to see in-car technology to warn drivers.

He said ongoing measures such as signage and speed traps were making an impact on accident figures.

Under ancient rights, ponies, donkeys, cattle and pigs owned by commoners have roamed free in the New Forest for centuries.

Wild deer can also be a hazard.

Mr Matthews said every death was a "tragedy" for the commoners and invited car companies to use the forest to develop in-vehicle technology.

'Human reliability'

He said: "Let's have a test on a New Forest road - what would it do when it sees a pony standing beside the road? Can it work out if that pony is going to step out into the road, which humans find pretty much impossible?

"That technology could work in the dark and we know a lot of accidents in the forest happen at night."

Guided by five radars, four lasers and 12 cameras, a self-driving car had its first trials in London earlier this month.

Alex Eriksson, of the University of Southampton Transportation Research Group, said: "We have sensing equipment that allows us to detect pedestrians - this tech could be used to reduce the impact of wild animals in rural areas.

"I don't think we're ready to drive fully autonomously to avoid animals in real time - at the moment the human reliability and flexibility trumps that of computer algorithms."

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