Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, recently announced the government’s intention to see driverless cars on British roads by 2015. Ministers plan to revise the existing laws and legislation that will allow computer-controlled cars on public roads by January next year.
Currently, driverless vehicles are only permitted on private land. The government believes this is hindering Britain’s ability to stay at the forefront of automotive research and design. Several US states, most notably California, have legalised self-driving automobiles. Google have been testing a modified Lexus 450h on Californian highways for some time and have positioned themselves as a leader in the field. Researchers from Oxford have built a fully autonomous Nissan Leaf but are currently unable to test the vehicle on public highways. The Department of Transport had previously pledged to permit driverless cars by 2013.
As a result of the move the Highway Code will have to be refreshed, the implications for driver licensing are not yet known. A comprehensive review has been launched by the government to determine the changes that need to be made to the law. This review will cover two types of autonomous vehicle: a driverless car with a licensed driver who can at any time take control of the car, and a fully autonomous car with no driver present. Earlier this year Google showed off its first self-driving automobile, which featured neither a steering wheel nor an accelerator.
The government has invited cities to make a bid to become a host for autonomous vehicle trails. A maximum of three cities will be selected to participate. Participation in the trials will be worth up to £10m for the successful cities. Trials are scheduled to begin from January 2015 and will last between 18 months and three years. Vince Cable said the change in the law would put the UK “at the forefront of this transformational technology and open up new opportunities for our economy and society.”
Research suggests the motoring public is yet to be convinced by driverless vehicles. 56 per cent of UK adults would not purchase a driverless car, and a quarter of people said they would not feel safe in such a vehicle. The risk of some kind of malfunction was the primary concern for a majority people. Others expressed concern about a lack of human control and cyber security issues. In the United States, the FBI report raised concerns over the security implications of autonomous vehicles.