There are an estimated 1bn cars currently on the world's roads. It has taken 100 years to hit that number but the scary thing is this could quadruple within the next 40 years and keeping 4bn vehicles from bumping into each other, or even keep them moving, is taxing the minds of automotive engineers.

Randy Visintainer, director of research and innovations at Ford, is one of those looking into the future. Cars capable of driving themselves will become the norm one day and, although that time is still some way off, he said: "We have to start thinking about this right now because if we don't we are heading for global gridlock."

Ford already has project vehicles on the road to see how such systems as lane keeping, cross traffic alert, active park assists, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and collision warning can all work together to keep traffic moving safely.

"The challenge is to make the technology affordable," he said. "We don't to make these systems available only on high end models, they need to go right through our product range."

As well as radars, cameras and sensors, laser technology is also coming into play, said Greg Stevens, manager of Ford's global driver assistance and active safety programme.

"This technology can create a 3D map of the car and its environment in real time. This way the vehicle will know what's around it all the time and alert the driver to any hazards.

"Wifi is another technology we are investigating which will allow cars to talk to each other. Current technologies need line of sight while wifi will allow cars to 'see' each other even at blind intersections."

As for the car taking complete control that is still a long way off.

Stevens said: "There is a whole lot of legislation that will have to be rolled out first and then there are other issues such as insurance. People will still need to drive themselves for quite some time."