Driverless cars get green light for UK roads

Starting in January, autonomous vehicles will be tested on UK roads in up to three cities.

self driving car
Credit: Google

The UK government is keen to stay ahead of the game when it comes to self-driving cars, and has announced that the technology will be permitted on the country's roads starting next year.

Originally, the UK Department of Transport pledged to test self-driving cars by the end of 2013, but now the governmental body hopes autonomous vehicles will be ready for trial by January next year. Business Secretary Vince Cable revealed details of the government's new plans on Tuesday, which also invites cities to become one of three to host autonomous vehicle trials which will start at the same time regulation will allow the cars on public roads.

The competition, worth £10 million, invites cities to bid to host one of the trials by submitting a "business led" proposal, in conjunction with businesses and research organizations. Up to three UK cities will become test sites, and each project is expected to last between 18 and 38 months after starting January 2015.

UK ministers have launched a review of current road regulations to establish "how the UK can remain at the forefront of driverless car technology," and to "ensure there is an appropriate regime for testing driverless cars in the UK," according to the department. Two areas in particular are under review; cars with a driver who is able to take control if need be, and fully autonomous cars which have no qualified driver at the helm.

Speaking at vehicle engineering consultancy, test and research facility MIRA, Cable said:

The excellence of our scientists and engineers has established the UK as a pioneer in the development of driverless vehicles through pilot projects. 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 driverless cars competition is being funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Transport, in partnership with the UK Technology Strategy Board.