Self-driving cars will be on UK roads in six months

Driverless cars will be trialled in three British cities starting next year, the government has said.

Self-driving cars will be on UK roads in six months

At the moment, it’s not legal for driverless cars to drive on public roads, but the government has been pushing to update laws to boost development – and encourage investment.

Business Secretary Vince Cable will today reveal two measures to help get self-driving cars onto UK roads in the next six months: a £10 million pot to fund trials in three cities, and a legal review to allow self-driving cars on public roads.

The announcement may sound familiar: in July 2013, the government made the same pledge, claiming driverless cars would hit British roads within six months.

Following that, the £10 million trial plans were announced in December, but the government has only now revealed how it will work. Three cities will each receive a share of the funding pot, to host trials lasting between 18 and 36 months, starting from January 2015.

The government is also now starting its review of existing road laws to see what must be changed in order to allow driverless cars on public roads – including how such vehicles will be licensed, and how the advent of driverless cars will affect liability and insurance. The results of the review will be published at the end of the year.

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It’s not yet clear whether self-driving cars in the UK will be required to have a driver in the front seat with controls to take over if the computer goes wrong, as is currently the case in California, where Google is testing its version of the technology.

Google hopes to create cars that have no steering wheel or brake pedals, and is lobbying to be allowed to test them on public roads. Whether it’s allowed to do so here will depend on the conclusions of the government’s review.

“Two areas of driverless technology will be covered in the review: cars with a qualified driver who can take over control of the driverless car and fully autonomous vehicles where there is no driver,” the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said in a statement.

However, Britain isn’t reliant on Google to create driverless cars. The University of Oxford’s RobotCar project uses an iPad and off-the-shelf parts to convert standard cars to automated ones, and self-driving “pods” are set to be tested in Milton Keynes next year. Today’s announcement was made at MIRA, another organisation that makes unmanned ground vehicles (currently for military purposes), and which consults on automotive innovations.

“The excellence of our scientists and engineers has established the UK as pioneers in the development of driverless vehicles through pilot projects,” said Business Secretary Vince Cable. “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.”

The deadline to apply for the driverless cars trial is 1 October – further details are available from the Technology Strategy Board.

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