Driverless cars are set to join cyclists, motorists and pedestrians on the streets of three UK cities this coming January in a £10 million funded project.
Business, Innovation & Skills secretary Vince Cable’s announcement that the introduction of driverless vehicles to the country’s roads had been fast tracked is accompanied by news that the government will be reviewing road regulations which currently ban the use of automated driving technology.
Initially, the cars will operate for a trial period of 18 to 36 months in three cities, with the funding coming from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Transport, in partnership with the UK’s innovation agency.
The cities are yet to be determined, but the government are encouraging businesses and research organisations around the country to put forward proposals before October 1 for their city to be chosen.
Alongside the work being done in government to bring these projects to the country’s roads, a review of current road regulations is being undertaken, to ensure that the laws are clear when the projects get underway in January.
Currently, it is illegal for cars to operate on roads in the UK without the a driver in control. There are semi-autonomous systems currently on the market, which keep cars in lanes on the motorway and control their speed, as well aiding in parking and safe braking. However, these systems require a driver to be fit and licensed to drive, and to have their hands on the wheel at all times, to stay within the law.
The two part review into legislation regarding driverless vehicles will focus first on the need for them to comply with current construction and safety regulations, traffic laws and relevant aspects of the Highway Code.
Meanwhile the second part of the investigation will analyse the licensing, liability and insurance policies being put in place for driverless vehicles in other countries, which should help inform the drafting of our own.
The results of this review are due at the end of 2014, before the tests begin in January 2015.
Cable also had complimentary words for the skills of the scientists and engineers here who have pioneered the development of driverless vehicles.
"The excellence of our scientists and engineers has established the UK as a pioneer in the development of driverless vehicles through pilot projects," he said. "Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than 6 months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society.
Claire Perry, the Transport Minister, added: "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 director of AA Cars, David Bruce, told the Guardian that while features assisting motorists to stay in lane or help with parking are becoming increasingly common, "there is a big leap of faith needed by drivers from embracing assistance systems to accepting the fully automated car.
"Two-thirds of AA members still enjoy driving too much to want a fully automated car," he added.
Google, which has been at the forefront of the development of driverless technology, has consistently been keen to highlight the safety of the technology.
In April of this year we reported that the search giant had released a video which demonstrated how its driverless technology was being taught to deal with cyclists on the road. You can watch it below and make up your own mind how safe you’d feel next to one of these vehicles.
The following month Google unveiled its own self driving car, which didn’t even feature a steering wheel. One feature highlighted at its launch is the fact that the car’s bumper ismade of foam, which supposedly reduces impact injuries should the technology fail.