Driverless cars to be allowed on UK roads

MIRA Driverless Car

The government announced yesterday that January 2015 will see the arrival of driverless cars on public roads of the UK. Driverless cars have been in use in the UK for some time now, in experimental form by various groups of engineers and researchers but they have only been allowed on private roads so far.

The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was visiting a Mira research facility in the Midlands when he spoke about the plans, “Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society,” he declared. The government has invited those cities around the country who are interested in hosting trials to compete against each other, three cities will host trials over a period of between 18 and 36 months and a £10 million fund will be shared among the winners towards their costs, any city interested will have to declare their interest by the beginning of October 2014.

Government ministers have also ordered a review of road regulations and traffic laws for the UK, including changes to the Highway Code to allow for new rules and guidelines regarding the addition of driverless cars on our roads, these new regulations should be published by the end of 2014. The Transport Minister, Claire Perry said “Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network – they could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2. We are determined to ensure driverless cars can fulfil this potential which is why we are actively reviewing regulatory obstacles to create the right framework for trialling these vehicles on British roads.”

The UK is by no means the first to allow driverless cars on public roads, Google has been operating its driverless cars on Californian roads for some time now, with more than 300,000 miles covered – although this was mainly on the motorways, Florida and Nevada have also approved tests in the US. Japan began testing driverless cars on public highways in 2013 and Gothenburg in Sweden granted permission to Volvo for testing 100 driverless cars in 2017. Chinese search engine Baidu has also stated that it has begun developing a project for driverless cars.

There have been concerns raised around the world about the safety of driverless cars on public highways, with the legal practicalities and issues regarding insurance also causing unease. The FBI have gone even further, saying that driverless cars “will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car” and warning about the danger of driverless cars potentially being used as lethal weapons.

The UK government press release states that “The driverless cars competition is being funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Transport, in partnership with the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board. Successful projects must be business-led and need to demonstrate close collaboration with partners such as technology developers, supply chain companies and manufacturers.”