Driverless cars will be operating on UK roads within two years under government plans to accelerate testing on the technology.
The Department for Transport has announced plans to move forward with advanced trials on automated vehicles, which would remove the requirement for a dedicated safety driver.
Ministers have said they expect fully self-driving cars to be operating on the country’s roads by 2021 but it has been suggested they could start appearing by the end of this year if the process for advanced trials is approved.
The testing code of conduct currently requires that a driver is present either inside or outside the car who is able to resume control of the vehicle. Until now only the US has allowed autonomous cars to be tested without a human supervisor.
The Government said the move to support advance trials was an effort to maintain the UK’s position as a “global leader in the safe and responsible” testing of autonomous vehicles.
It is estimated that the UK market for connected and automated vehicles could be worth £52 billion by 2035.
The DfT said that as well as speeding up advanced trials which could remove the current legal requirement for a safety driver, it would strengthen its existing code of practice to set clearer expectations for those conducting trials.
These updates include rules on the collection and sharing of data as well as requirements to inform relevant authorities of trial details.
Google’s Waymo is among firms testing fully autonomous cars. Picture: Shutterstock
Jesse Norman, future of mobility minister, said: “Thanks to the UK’s world class research base, this country is in the vanguard of the development of new transport technologies, including automation.
“The government is supporting the safe, transparent trialling of this pioneering technology, which could transform the way we travel.”
Richard Harrington, Automotive Minister, added: “The UK has a rich heritage in automotive development and manufacturing, with automated and electric vehicles set to transform the way we all live our lives.
“We need to ensure we take the public with us as we move towards having self-driving cars on our roads by 2021. The update to the code of practice will provide clearer guidance to those looking to carry out trials on public roads.”
The Government believes that self-driving cars could “transform” travel in the UK but the rapid progress has been criticised by some who believe that the systems are not advanced enough to guarantee the safety of passengers, other drivers and road users.
Last year a 49-year-old pedestrian was killed by an Uber self-driving car being tested in Arizona and in 2016 a Tesla Model S was involved in a fatal accident when its driver assist “Autopilot” mode failed to spot an articulated truck.
One of Uber’s setl-driving test vehicles was involved in a fatal accident in 2018. Picture: Shutterstock