Driverless cars now permitted to test on UK roads

Published: 11 February 2015

► Government approves driverless car trials
► Sites in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes, Coventry
► See autonomous cars on roads this summer

If you thought the standard of driving in the UK was the result of dummies behind the wheel, you might be on to something. The Government today confirmed that driverless cars will be permitted on British roads from summer 2015.

Until now the ability to test on public roads has been severely restricted by law, but today’s announcement by transport minister Claire Perry opens the way for more widespread testing - on the highway not just the laboratory.

The UK wants to position itself as a hotbed for autonomous car development, although the burghers of California - home to Google and its nascent self-driving car - and Germany may have something to say about that…

Why the UK is gunning for a slice of the autonomous driving pie

Business secretary Vince Cable predicted that self-driving cars would become widespread by the middle of the next decade. 

‘The projects we are now funding in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry will help to ensure we are world-leaders in this field and able to benefit from what is expected to be a £900 billion industry by 2025,’ he said.

The Government’s autonomous car review was launched today in Greenwich, the only area in London to benefit from a £19m central grant for the trials. A Meridian shuttle will be used in the suburb to bus passengers short distances and today’s event also sported a driverless pod bound for Milton Keynes.

So how will they keep driverless cars safe? 

The Department for Transport review, which took six months, was published today. The findings make it mandatory for a reserve driver to be on standby in case of system error. It’s the same failsafe mechanism as used in the US and elsewhere in Europe, then.

A code of conduct will be published this spring before full road trials start in summer 2015.

Transport minister 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.’