Self-driving cars could be on UK roads next year, Grant Shapps says – ‘Huge potential’

Royal Air Force trial the use of self-driving cars

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the first self-driving cars, coaches and lorries could be deployed on UK motorways in 2023, and praised the “fantastic technology”. These vehicles will include features like automatic lane and speed control and come as part of the Government’s timetable for a technology-led motoring revolution.

It is expected that this would be followed by the rollout of “fully fledged” self-driving vehicles on motorways and some A-roads in 2025.

This would come under new legislation designed to create a framework for their deployment, the Telegraph has reported.

Earlier this year, the Law Commission published a report which argued that the person in the driving seat of a self-driving car should not be held accountable if it crashes.

It recommended reforms that would see driverless car users exempt from prosecution if anything goes wrong with the automation.

This could include causing an accident, speeding, running a red light or other dangerous actions.

Mr Shapps commented on self-driving technology, saying: “The benefits of self-driving vehicles have the potential to be huge. 

“Not only can they improve people’s access to education and other vital services, but the industry itself can create tens of thousands of job opportunities throughout the country.

“Most importantly, they’re expected to make our roads safer by reducing the dangers of driver error in road collisions. 

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“We want the UK to be at the forefront of developing and using this fantastic technology, and that is why we are investing millions in vital research into safety and setting the legislation to ensure we gain the full benefits that this technology promises.”

As part of the Government’s move toward a “self-driving revolution”, it was announced that major Highway Code changes would be made to prepare for their arrival.

The changes to the Code will help ensure the first wave of technology will be used safely, explaining clearly that while travelling in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to resume control in a timely way if they are prompted to.

The plans also include a change to current regulation, allowing drivers to view content which is not related to driving on built-in display screens, while the self-driving vehicle is in control. 

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It will however, still be illegal to use mobile phones in self-driving mode, given the greater risk they pose in distracting drivers as shown in research.

A public consultation was launched and found that the majority of respondents were supportive of the proposed Highway Code changes.

In May, the Government unveiled a further £40million boost to kick-start commercial self-driving services, like delivery vans and passenger vehicles.

The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 new, high-skilled jobs within Britain’s industry that would be worth £41.7billion by 2035. 

Edmund King, the president of the AA, said assisted driving features, like adaptive cruise control and emergency braking, are already helping millions of drivers.

He added: “It is still quite a big leap from assisted driving, where the driver is still in control, to self-driving, where the car takes control.

“It is important that the Government does study how these vehicles would interact with other road users on different roads and changing weather conditions. 

“However, the ultimate prize, in terms of saving thousands of lives and improving the mobility of the elderly and the less mobile, is well worth pursuing.”

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