According to Ricardo, the engineering consultant, in ten years we will hurtle up the motorway inches from the car in front while reading the newspaper and making a brew.

Glance across to the middle lane and there will be the district nurse in her Micra, one eye glued to the rear view mirror while she applies her lippy. The other eye will be catching up on last night's Desperate Housewives on the dashboard screen.

So certain is the industry now that all this will be happening by the time we are all ten years older that there is already a name for it: autonomous driving. The technology is all there - rather too much of it in fact. Will it be geo-stationary positioning that allows cars to remain in close proximity? Or will it be automated distance keeping? Or adaptive cruise?

And who will control it? Will it be the software in the vehicles, or the sensors at the roadside? Will it be a remote authority at some distant control console? Or will it be the lead driver in each train? A mix of first and fourth is the most likely.

It's always worth asking MIRA (the Motor Industry Research Association) about these matters because it has just gathered in more than its fair share of research and development grants and is building a road network next to its office in Nuneaton which will sort these things out. For once, the EC has managed to pick one single project authority and within a year, the playground will have been built and the games will be played with real road trains.

There are cars such as the newly-launched BMW 5GT, that already have navigation systems fitted together with electronic braking, acceleration and steering. All that is needed is two way radio that allows communication with the lead driver in a platoon that will embark on a similar journey.

A driver approaching his destination takes back control of his own vehicle and asks for the convoy to open up to release him. He then exits to the side and continues solo. The remaining cars close up to regain the aerodynamic shape that reduces fuel use by at least 20%. This green fruit is the element that will drive the development.

The other virtue of inch-perfect proximity is that it is a dream for film-makers who can now have baddies being chased over roofs and bonnets by the Keystone Cops who so far have been confined to the roofs of Network Rail.

There is, however, a hurdle to be cleared - quite a big one. But because the technicians are promising no new procedures for a decade there seems to be no urgency in finding the fix. The problem is the Vienna Convention: Article 13: Road Traffic. It says that the driver must have the vehicle under control at all times. It's a regulation that has been adopted worldwide. The driver has to be responsible.

And the driver wants to be responsible. What if you are the guard's van in a road train and right at the back? You look in the rear mirror and see the blazing petrol tanker out of control behind. Do you want to sit there and await developments? Thought not.

MIRA says: "We are going to have to rethink the issue of responsibility." You can almost hear the sound of lawyers rubbing their hands with anticipation.

Rob Golding