UK Government set to approve fully driverless trials on public roads

20 November 2017

20 November 2017 The UK Government is to approve plans to test self-driving vehicles without a human at the wheel on public roads by 2019. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is expected to outline the plans for funding of such research in his Budget statement due on 22 November. It is part of a suite of measures designed to offer a boost to the UK’s technology and science industries, and aims to build on plans to make the country a leader in the development of autonomous vehicle technology. The government has already committed funding to connected and autonomous vehicle research. The trials are expected to pave the way for fully driverless cars to operate freely on UK roads from 2021, a target announced by the country’s transport minister Chris Grayling earlier in November. Currently, any company undertaking tests on public roads must ensure there is a human present in the vehicle to take control, in case something goes wrong. Several companies have tested autonomous vehicles on UK roads, from university spin out companies such as Oxbotica to carmakers such as Jaguar Land Rover. There are also plans to trial driverless trucks on UK motorways. The new UK rules will allow companies to test vehicles on any public roads as soon as necessary changes are made to the Road Traffic Act, and the transport secretary is convinced that the testing cars are safe to operate without back-up drivers. The changes to the rules are expected to take around a year, meaning the cars could theoretically be on the roads as soon as 2019. This also means manufacturers will be able to test cars on any roads, not just specified public routes. Mike Hawes, chief executive of UK motor industry group the SMMT, said: ′We support government’s measures to make the UK one of the best places in the world to develop, test and sell connected and autonomous vehicles. ′These vehicles will transform our roads and society, dramatically reducing accidents and saving thousands of lives every year, while adding billions of pounds to the economy.’ Speaking about testing vehicles on UK roads, Nick Rogers, executive director of product engineering at Jaguar Land Rover, comments: ′Testing this self-driving project on public roads is so exciting, as the complexity of the environment allows us to find robust ways to increase road safety in the future. By using inputs from multiple sensors, and finding intelligent ways to process this data, we are gaining accurate technical insight to pioneer the automotive application of these technologies. Jaguar Land Rover is proud to be a leader in collaborative research projects for autonomous and connected cars. We are supporting innovative research that will be integral to the infrastructure, technology and legal landscape needed to make intelligent, self-driving vehicles a reality within the next decade.’ While many carmakers believe some form of autonomous vehicles will be in operation early in the next decade, many in the industry believe it will be decades before cars have sufficient technology to drive on any type of road. However, Waymo, an arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, in recent weeks announced that its fully self-driving car service using vehicles without safety drivers would go into operation in Phoenix, Arizona, within months.