Government confirms driverless cars to be tested on UK roads in 2018

12.00 | 19 November 2017 | | 7 comments

New regulations set to be announced in Wednesday’s budget will pave the way for driverless cars to be tested on UK roads as early as next year, the Government has confirmed. (BBC News)

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show today (19 Nov), chancellor Philip Hammond said the objective was to have ‘fully driverless cars’, without a safety attendant on board, in use by 2021.

Mr Hammond said: “Some would say that’s a bold move, but we have to embrace these technologies if we want the UK to lead the next industrial revolution.”

Asked about the potential loss of jobs for drivers, Mr Hammond said the country could not ‘hide from change’ and the Government has to equip people with the skills ‘to take up new careers’.

The announcement will come as little surprise to those in the transport sector, with the Government regularly expressing its desire for the UK to take the lead in developing autonomous technology.

Earlier this month, transport secretary Chris Grayling claimed autonomous vehicles offer ‘tremendously exciting’ potential benefits, including making travel by road ‘far safer’.

In a speech to an Association of British Insurers conference, Mr Grayling also predicted the arrival of ‘self-driving cars’ on UK roads by 2021.

In August, the Government announced that small convoys of ‘partially driverless lorries’ will undergo trials on British roads by the end of 2018.

The £8.1m ‘platooning’ trial will see up to three heavy goods vehicles, travelling in convoy, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle.

The Government has also funded a number of research projects, including the GATEway project (pictured above) – which is being led by the Transport Research Laboratory.

Category: Autonomous vehicles.



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    David, the “devpod” car in which Guy Martin went around a closed track did what “a lot” of human drivers do. Namely, it tried to drive as fast as it could without knowing what the upcoming conditions may be like. Most of the trials I have seen referenced for autonomous vehicles have them driving at speeds which do not test the laws of physics so much. Not sure that part of the program was indicative of everyday public road use by proposed autonomous vehicles. Still some way to go but they will happen (in my opinion).
    Here’s a thought – if autonomous vehicles can be shown to potentially reduce casualties by removing human driver error contributions, but cause fewer casualties by technical limitations isn’t there fewer casualties overall? i.e. a good thing? we “accept” a number of casualties every year so why not introduce something that reduces the total and will get better over time – similar to the introduction of the car originally perhaps?

    Nick, Lancashire
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    Interestingly I watched a Guy Martin program on Channel 4 at the weekend about the rise of autonomous vehicles. I started my viewing as a sceptic, and finished even more deeply entrenched.

    The program told us that there are only about 50-60 people in the world today who are capable of writing the code necessary for the AI in an autonomous vehicle. Ten of them had been working for 2 years on the design of an autonomous electric racing car. Guy had 7 laps of a tiny circuit at Silverstone in which to get acquainted with the car and then set a target time. He then sat in the car as a passenger while the car had a go. Despite being on a test track with no moving hazards at all it could not get to within 7 seconds of his best time of just over a minute. Guy remarked that it was very harsh in its use of the controls, with steering in particular being accomplished in a 50 pence piece fashion. It eventually had a terminal spin into the gravel. There were numerous other examples of just how far this technology has to go before it is ready for our roads.

    Part of the problem is that the small group of expert code writers probably don’t have much of a clue about how to drive…

    David, Suffolk
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    As I’m driving around, I like to spot certain situations and imagine how and if, a driverless car could cope. For instance, can a driverless car ‘read’ as we know it? I can understand it being programmed to recognize common road signs and symbols, however on many busy multi-lane junctions, there are c/way markings indicating which lane to use, often with the destination abbreviated such as ‘L’pool’ or ‘B’head’ and/or road numbers – what would a driverless car make of those? Can they also ‘read’ one-off signs that are not in their database of road signs? What about street nameplates? What about a road where the speed limit is a lot higher than the actual speeds? Would it acknowledge that and go with the flow or would it automatically strive to reach the posted limit, because ‘that’s what it’s supposed to do’? On a 30mph residential road, despite the posted limit, would it nevertheless move at a speed respectful to its environment and occupants thereof – say 15-20 mph – or would it automatically aim for 30 because it knows no reason not to?

    And finally, technology permitting, will there one day in the future be a Driverless Car Forum like this one, where the failings of human drivers are regularly discussed?

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    David, the current Waymo vehicle looks like a standard car (still with door mirrors) with a roof box and a bulge on the top like a large police helmet.

    I could not see if there was still a steering wheel, but the idea is that there will not be any human accessible controls in the vehicle, much like a passenger cannot get to the controls in a Black Cab taxi.

    However you can relax as it is only happening in California (soon Ford in northern USA) and elsewhere a few years later.

    Strangely, one of the ‘experts’ said that they could see how these vehicles could work on Motorways, but not in towns. However, all of the testing has been done in towns and not on high speed roads at all.

    Mark, Caerphilly
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I’d be keen on having the attendant fairly close to the steering wheel and other controls, so how will it work if he is in the back seat? I suspect that something other than a normal car will be used. It will probably be something that looks like the mobile public convenience whose photograph accompanies this article. If it doesn’t walk like a taxi, or talk like a taxi, then in my book it isn’t a taxi. It will be an attended ‘pod’- that is a step towards an autonomous taxi, but it is still a long way from it.

    David, Suffolk
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    I have read and heard comments from those who are skeptical about the possiblity, let alone the timing of driverless cars. However this does not match with the fact that Waymo (part of Alphabet aka Google Parent co.) are starting a taxi service with self driving cars where the ‘attendant’ will be in the back seat. I’m sure Waymo will get insurance – no doubt from an insurance company set up by Alpabet if nobody else 😉

    Mark, Cardiff
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    It is fine to test ‘driverless cars’ next year. I presume most if not all trials this soon would have a driver on board just in case he/she is needed.

    Mr Hammond’s enthusiasm for the technology is impressive but the objective ‘fully driverless cars’, without a safety attendant on board, in use by 2021’ is far from realistic.

    You only have to read the recent Connected Autonomous Vehicles report
    to see what the industry experts think of the Chancellor’s timescale to achieve ‘level 5’driving autonomy.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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