Autonomous cars get Government green light
12 August 2014
Author: John Mahoney
Businesses have cautiously welcomed the news that driverless cars are one step closer to reality following
the UK Government allowing testing to begin on public roads next January.
Fully autonomous cars are currently being developed by the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Land Rover and Nissan and, more recently, Google, which has already carried out 300,000 miles of testing in the US.
The self-driving car of the future is being touted to businesses as a safer, more efficient alternative to the traditional company car and could cut congestion thanks to car-to-car communication.
The decision to authorise the testing was announced by business secretary Vince Cable, who hopes the UK will become a place of excellence for the emerging tech. To help kick-start the industry, £10m is being offered, to be shared between three chosen cities where the trials will take place.
The trials will then last between 18 and 36 months. Before the trials begin, ministers have ordered an urgent review of the UK's road regulations to provide guidelines for the testing. This could involve changes in the Highway Code to help the self-driving cars comply with the traffic laws. To coincide with the review of laws, the Department for Transport is also carrying out a consultation to gather feedback from those interested in the new technology.
Among the autonomous car evangelists who are expected to contribute is Thatcham Research, which has been quick to praise the new trials. Off the back of the announcement, it has called for the Government to introduce incentives to support the widespread adoption of part-autonomous driving aids such as collision warning and auto emergency braking. Following its real-world testing, Thatcham suggests the widespread adoption could save 1200 lives in just 10 years.
Gerry Keaney from the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association also welcomes the progress, announcing driverless cars of the future will be "natural fit for rental and leasing companies and could enable many people to have a greater access to the technology".
But it wasn't all good news for autonomous cars. The Road Safety Markings Association used the opportunity to say the UK's poorly maintained road networks will play havoc with the new technology, which will struggle to identify crucial road markings. But the biggest criticism comes from the insurance industry price comparator Gocompare.com, which immediately questioned who would be responsible for an accident and, more importantly, whose insurance pays - the driver, the carmaker, or even the man who programmes the software.
Interested parties wishing to take part in the DfT consultation can email email@example.com.