Driverless cars on public roads by 2015

  • Government permits autonomous cars to test in public
  • Driverless vehicles will be on UK roads by January 2015
  • Business Secretary Vince Cable announces details today

A future of driverless cars in the UK has taken a step closer today as the government announces measures that aim to allow autonomous cars to test on public roads by January.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has outlined two schemes today: a review of existing road regulations and a competition for UK cities to win a £10 million fund for cities to become a designated test area for autonomous vehicles.

New regulations

Amendments to the Highway Code are required to allow autonomous vehicles to join regular traffic. Ministers have begun a review of current regulations to ‘ensure there is an appropriate regime for testing driverless cars in the UK’, says the Department for Transport.

We can expect that ‘driverless’ cars initially tested will still be accompanied by a driver behind the wheel with the ability to manually override the system. The review will also examine the possibility of allowing fully autonomous vehicles with no driver onto public roads, however.

Many areas will require examination in the review, including construction and safety regulations, traffic laws, licensing and insurance protocol.

Funding competition

Cities across the country are invited to bid for a share or a £10 million fund to host a driverless vehicle trial together with local businesses and research organisations.

As many as three cities will be selected, with each trial project expected to last between 18 and 36 months. Deadline for applications has been set as 1 October 2014.

A large part of the motivation for the government to throw its weight behind a more relaxed legal framework for driverless technology is to make the UK an attractive place for global car companies to develop and test their products, with potentially lucrative opportunities for the technology.

Testing of driverless cars on public roads is already underway in other countries around the world, notably Japan, Germany, Singapore and the USA, where internet giant Google’s autonomous prototypes have been racking up miles in California.

Robot cars on the road within six months

Speaking at industry test centre MIRA (the Motor Industry Research Association) today, Vince Cable said:

‘The excellence of our scientists and engineers has established the UK as a pioneer in the development of driverless vehicles through pilot projects. 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.’

MIRA currently supplies autonomous vehicles to the British Army and it is expected that the company will be heavily involved in public testing of driverless machines.

More specific guidelines regarding legal framework and insurance responsibilities in the event of an accident, for example, will also be required and are expected to evolve over the coming months.

A recent survey by Churchill Car Insurance suggested that public confidence in driverless cars remains low, with only eight percent of respondents stating they had no safety concerns regarding driverless cars.