The government just put the UK at the forefront of autonomous car testing
As self-driving cars get closer to appearing on our roads, the UK government has set out a range of testing guidelines for autonomous vehicle manufacturers.
The Code of Practice follows the government’s decision to launch a £20 million competitive fund for collaborative research and development into driverless vehicles – putting the UK at the forefront of the autonomous revolution.
Before even getting on the roads, manufacturers will now have to conduct in-house testing to prove their cars won’t create an additional risk to road users. Furthermore, the government says “organisations should maintain an audit trail of such evidence”.
The guidelines go on to say: “Vehicle sensor and control systems should be sufficiently developed to be capable of appropriately responding to all types of road user which may typically be encountered during the test in question.” This means driverless vehicles must be able to interact safely with more vulnerable road users such as “disabled people, those with visual or hearing impairments, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, children and horse riders.”
Elsewhere, the guidelines also suggest that the cars’ autonomous systems must be impervious to hackers, and have “appropriate levels of security built into them to manage any risk of unauthorised access”.
Driver and tester laws
The government believes that the driver is the last fail-safe in autonomous technology, and the guidelines make this clear. The guidelines read: “Vehicle automated braking and steering systems should be designed such that in the event of failure, manual braking and steering is still possible.”
As a result, those testing autonomous cars will be subject to the same drinking laws as those in driver-operated cars, and will also need to hold a registered UK driving licence. The Code of Practise continues: “All existing laws regarding driver behaviour, for example prohibiting use of a handheld mobile phone or other similar handheld device, complying with speed limits, continue to apply even if the vehicle is operating in an automated mode.”
Compulsory black box
The new rules will also put the onus on car manufacturers to work with local authorities, emergency services and traffic enforcement to make the testing process as safe as possible. But if things go wrong, a compulsory data recorder should make each accident easier to analyse.
Driverless cars tested in the UK will be forced to record every action conducted by both driver and car. According to the report, this “black box” will include data on everything from the application of indicators and the vehicle’s speed to steering and use of the horn.