The government could allow fully driverless cars onto UK roads later this year.
Under current law, any autonomous vehicle being tested on public roads in the UK must be roadworthy, insured and supervised by a driver – whether in the vehicle or by remote-control – who is “ready, able and willing” to resume control at any time.
Those laws, along with a series of further guidelines, are set out in the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles’s (CCAV) 2015 Code of Practice for self-driving vehicles. The CCAV has now unveiled a series of updates to that code, and is developing a new framework for ‘advanced trials’ that could remove the need for the safety driver.
The CCAV says the “government is aware of the growing desire to conduct more advanced trials on public roads”, and notes that: “such trials may currently be outside of the law and may require support and facilitation from the Department for Transport to proceed.” As a result, the DfT will “develop and operate a process to support advanced trials on public roads.”
The CCAV says the updates to the Code of Practice will “reinforce the UK’s status as a global leader in the safe and responsible testing of automated vehicles.” As set out in the 2017 Autumn Budget, the government wants fully self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2021, and has estimated the UK’s connected and autonomous vehicle will be worth £52 billion by 2035.
The updates to the Code of Practice also include details on how firms conducting autonomous vehicle testing can engage with relevant bodies and the public. Automotive minister Richard Harrington said: “We need to ensure we take the public with us as we move towards having self-driving cars on our roads by 2021.”
The new code includes the expectation that those conducting tests will publish safety information and performance reports before any trial takes place.