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Driverless cars in UK traffic jams from January - but do Britons want them?

James Temperton
31 Jul 2014
Google driverless car
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Assisted and fully-automated cars will be tested on UK roads in less than six months, the government has announced

Driverless cars will be allowed on UK roads from January 2015, with three cities set to be selected as guinea-pigs for the first trials. The multi-million pound project is calling for support from businesses and research organisations to turn the UK into a driverless car superpower.

To herald the new age of robot cars the government will change existing road laws and regulations to allow both driver-assisted and completely autonomous vehicles. Trials of driverless cars starting in 2015 will last between 18 and 36 months, with cities, businesses and research organisations asked to collaborate on bids to win one of the three permits.

Business secretary Vince Cable said that the government wanted to lead the world in driverless car technology:

"Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than 6 months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society," he said, announcing the new test scheme.

But president of the AA Edmund King said that drivers were unwilling to hand over control to a computer:

"Many drivers are still resistant to change as 65 per cent enjoy driving too much to ever want the vehicle to take over from them. Cars have become more automated. However, there needs to be a big leap of faith by drivers from embracing assistance systems to accepting the fully automated car."

The government hopes that driverless cars will improve road safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions. It announced it was reviewing regulator obstacles to allow driverless cars to be tested on British roads by the start of 2015.

The competition to win the rights to test driverless cars will see up to three cities awarded a share of £10 million. Funding is being provided by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Transport.

Successful cities will need to prove that their bids are business-focussed and are in collaboration with technology companies, supply chains and manufacturers. The deadline for applications is noon on 1 October.

Science minister Greg Clark said that Britain was "brilliantly placed" to lead the world in driverless technology:

"It combines our strengths in cars, satellites, big data and urban design; with huge potential benefits for future jobs and for the consumer."

This isn't the first time the UK government has made bold claims about driverless cars. In July 2013 it pledged that testing would begin on UK within months. At the time the plans were part of a larger effort to reduce congestion on British roads unveiled by the Department for Transport.

Major car companies including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, General Motors and Volvo are already testing driverless and assisted cars. In the US Google recently unveiled its self-driving car, a small bubble-like vehicle with 'Go' and 'Stop' buttons.

The company plans to start testing 100 prototype vehicles early next year. Regulations in the US require that all self-driving cars tested on public roads also have manual controls that can be used by a qualified human driver.

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