Self-driving cars coming to UK roads in 2015

The FBI might think they’re a menace, but the UK government doesn’t want to hear from naysayers and spoilsports: they’ve given the go-ahead for driverless cars on public roads by 2015. (Am I the only one whose mind immediately went to David Hasselhoff? Oh, I am? OK.)

Keen to encourage investment cash innovation, business secretary Vince Cable has pledged £10 million in funding for research into making driverless cars an everyday reality. As The Guardian reports, he said, ‘Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months.’

Research institutions have until 1 October to submit funding proposals which pair their plans with an interested local town. Three cities with then be chosen to trial driverless cars for at least 18 months from January 2015. (Coincidentally a good time to make sure your insurance is up to date.)

The Department for Transport will also begin a review of road safety laws for testing both vehicles without drivers and vehicles which are autonomous but have a driver in case of emergency. Previously, they’d said that tests could start by December 2013, but that proved to be wishful thinking. Engineers from universities including Oxford and private companies like Mira have been running their own trials, but they’ve been limited to private roads until now.

Three states in America already allow self-driving cars, and according to the BBC, Google’s own version has clocked up 300,000 miles across California. Japan tested its first driverless car, made by Nissan, on public roads last year, and Sweden will unleash 1000 driverless Volvos in 2017. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and General Motors are all understood to be developing their own models.

The FBI thinks this could be dangerous, allowing criminals to use the cars as weapons. And there are some people out there who’ll never want to cede control of their cars, no matter how many speeding tickets they’ve racked up. But transport minister Claire Perry told the Guardian that driverless cars could be revolutionary. ‘They could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2,’ she said. You’d also never have to parallel park again.

You know, I think I might put those driving lessons on hold for just a little bit longer.

Image by Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons.

Diane Shipley

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