Driverless cars heading onto British roads in 2015

Driverless cars heading onto British roads in 2015

Government desire to change the rules to allow companies to start running trials of cars that do not need human driver will require change to Highway Code, industry sources say

By  Peter Dominiczak

10:15PM BST 29 Jul 2014

Driverless cars will start appearing on British roads next year, ministers will announce on Wednesday.

The Government wants to change the rules to allow companies to start running trials of cars that do not need a human driver on UK streets, industry sources said.

It means the first computer-controlled vehicles will be seen on quiet British streets by January next year.

Ministers will update the law to ensure that driverless cars can take to the streets – a move which will require a change in the Highway Code.

The new generation of vehicles work by using GPS technology to locate the vehicle’s position on an electronic map.

Google earlier this year unveiled its first computerised self-driving car, which has no steering wheel or accelerator. The company will test prototypes in California this year and says the ultimate goal is for cars to “shoulder the entire burden of driving”.

However, motoring campaigners have raised safety concerns about the possibility of driverless vehicles appearing on British roads.

A government document released this month said: “These vehicles will have a driver present but are capable of driving fully independently, using knowledge of the environment in which they are driving.” It added: “Fully autonomous cars remain a further step, and for the time being drivers will have the option (and responsibility) of taking control of the vehicle themselves. Vehicle manufacturers and their systems suppliers continue to explore the opportunities for full autonomy.”

David Bizley, the technical director of the RAC, said: “We suspect it will be difficult for people to come to terms with giving up control of their vehicle to a computer. Many vehicles already have features such as automatic braking and it is claimed that driverless technology is able to identify hazards more effectively than a person can, but many motorists will be concerned about not being able to control the speed of their vehicle for the conditions or layout of the road.”

Mr Bizley added: “The biggest question for society has to be how we manage the transition from having just a few of these vehicles on the road initially to having a mix of both driverless and driven vehicles to finally having just driverless vehicles.” Britain will also benefit from recent changes to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic.

It used to state: “Every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle or to guide his animals.”

However, an amendment agreed in May would allow a car to drive itself as long as the system “can be overridden or switched off by the driver”.


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