In line with its bid to have self-driving cars on our roads by 2020, the Government has advised in its Budgets that driverless lorries and cars will be trialled in the UK. It has also given the go ahead for driverless cars to be tested on motorways and A-roads in 2017.
Companies have already been testing driverless cars, however these have been typically taking place away from public highways.
Lorries may be the first autonomous vehicles to be tested on UK motorways and will be tested as 'platoons.' A section of the M6 near Carlisle has reportedly been earmarked as a potential test route. However, the Department for Transport could not confirm the location of the test route. The 'road train' will be controlled by a driver in the vehicle, although the other cabs will also have drivers in as a precaution. Questions have, nevertheless, been raised as to the practicality of having a 10-lorry platoon in the UK, given that our motorway network reportedly has more slip roads than anywhere else.
It has also been reported that the Government aims to remove regulatory barriers so that autonomous cars can be tested on British roads within the current parliamentary term, with trials on local roads taking place this year in 4 locations: Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes and Greenwich. This may not come as a surprise, given that the Government has also awarded eight UK-led projects with £20m for the research and development of autonomous cars. The trials will be funded by the Government's £100m Intelligent Mobility Fund. In the Budget, the Government said that it wanted the UK to be "a global centre for excellence in connected and autonomous vehicles."
However, the Department for Transport has confirmed that the tests will be restricted to vehicles with a human driver present, should the need to take control arise.
Despite these advances bringing the possibility of completely autonomous cars closer to a reality, there are significant legal hurdles which must be overcome before this can be achieved.