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UK government gives driverless car testing the go-ahead

Prepare to eBay your driving gloves and relinquish control – the driverless car revolution has officially begun in the UK.

The government gave the green light for testing on public roads in the wake of a six-month review that looked at the ‘best and safest ways’ to trial autonomous cars.

The six-month review – titled The Pathway to Driverless Cars – found that existing legislation is not a ‘barrier to the testing of automated vehicles on public roads’ and that ‘driverless vehicles can legally be tested on public roads in the UK today’. 

It stated those wanting to conduct driverless vehicle tests were not restricted by the need to test at a track on at certain geographical areas, not required to obtain any certificates or permits and could do so without a surety bond providing insurance is arranged, unlike other countries.

The government wants the UK to be a world-leader in driverless cars, an industry Business Secretary Vince Cable has estimated to be worth £900 billion by 2025.

Transport Minister Claire Perry said: “Driverless cars are the future. I want Britain to be at the forefront of this exciting new development, to embrace a technology that could transform our roads and open up a brand new route for global investment.

“These are still early days but today is an important step. The trials present a fantastic opportunity for this country to take a lead internationally in the development of this new technology.”

Driverless vehicle trials will begin in four locations in the UK in the summer: Bristol, Coventry, Greenwich and Milton Keynes.

A Code of Practice will be released in the spring of 2015 for those wanting to test autonomous vehicles. It will be developed in collaboration with the government and ‘key stakeholders’. 

The laws surrounding driverless cars will be amended by the summer of 2017, including clarification of who is liable in the event of an accident, regulations on vehicle use and potentially a change to MOT tests and promotion of safety. International amendments will likely happen at the end of 2018. 

Benefits of a driverless car future highlighted in the report include creating more time, knowing the average driver in England spends 235 hours behind the wheel every year, which is the equivalent of six working weeks. 

Human error, meanwhile, is a factor in 90 per cent of collisions. The use of automated brakes and computer systems that don’t get tired, distracted ill or argue with passengers is expected to ‘substantially reduce collisions, deaths and injuries’.

Reducing emissions, easing congestion and allowing more UK residents access to vehicles are other positives as it would mean someone unfit to drive (disabled or elderly) could make use of a car.

The government estimates ‘high automation’ – a driver is present and may need to manual control for parts of the journey – will be common until 2020 and beyond, at which point ‘full autonomy’ will start to come into play.

A number of cars offer what the government has classed as high automation in the form of adaptive cruise control, emergency city braking and lane departure assist. These safety features can be had on a fairly inexpensive saloon.

Audi, BMW, Google and Tesla are amongst the many companies investing in driverless cars. So far we have seen an Audi complete the Pikes Peak hill climb and drive around a track, Google’s pods negotiate US highways and plenty of self-parking.

While the benefits are significant, a number of industry experts have expressed concerns their concerns. The FBI, for example, published a report into using autonomous cars as weapons.

Meanwhile Tesla Motors and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk has invested a considerable sum of money into protecting against artificial intelligence, something he says is the biggest threat to the survival of the human race. 

Are our days of driving are numbered? Is this the beginning of the end for petrolheads? We would love to hear your thoughts.

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