Britain Takes One Massive Step Forward to a Driverless-Car Future

By Sam Gibbs on at

I can hardly believe what I'm reading, but it seems British legislators are actually keeping up with technology for once. By the end of 2013, autonomous cars will be allowed to be tested on UK public roads, not just private test tracks. The future may not be as far away as we once thought.

Volvo and others might be pushing ahead with practically self-driving cars you can actually buy, but true driverless cars are still a little way off. Google's been testing them out in the US, thanks to Nevada granting state-wide autonomous vehicle access on public roads. But to get that kind of thing over here we need on-the-ground testing, and the government needs to draw up new legislation to cover their passage around our roads. To be honest, there's a lot of red tape to get through and a lot to think about; for instance, who pays if the autonomous vehicle hits something?

The testing will be conducted in semi-autonomous mode, meaning someone has to sit in the driver's seat, ready to take over if something goes wrong, which sounds sensible to me. The team at Oxford University will be leading the road-going trials; the same folks behind some other adapted self-driving vehicles.

The Department for Transport apparently sees autonomous cars as a way of reducing congestion on Britain's packed roads, because they'll be able to drive at set distances from each other at controllable speeds. We've heard that rhetoric before, and there's no reason to disbelieve it -- self-driving cars could be the savour of the UK's groaning road network.

That's a long way off, of course, but we've just taken one massive step in the UK towards making it happen. One day soon your car might do your commute for you. Just as long as you're still allowed to drive sports cars yourself, I'm all for it. [BBC]