UK government issues report with new guidelines for autonomous vehicle testing

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A picture of driverless car by Waymo
Waymo Driverless Car

The UK’s Department of Transport said that it wants to test autonomous vehicles on roads in order to get the technology up and running by 2021. In a new report, they speculated that autonomous cars may end up on UK roads by the end of 2019.

A new government report says it will lift the previously mandatory requirement of a safety driver for self-driving car tests. This means that testing autonomous vehicles in their true sense would now be possible.

Transport secretary Chris Gayling said:

“Today we are updating our guidance on automated vehicle trials, cementing the UK’s position as a world leader in the development and testing of this innovative technology.”

The Announcement

The UK government revealed their plans for allowing driverless testing on Wednesday. Fully driverless trials have never happened on a large scale in the UK before. The rules right now do not allow testing autonomous vehicles without a human driver. The new draft, however, allows for cars without any steering wheels or human oversight to drive themselves. Undertaking this could prove significant for the future of self-driving cars.

Jesse Norman, the transport minister, said:

“Thanks to the UK’s world class research base, this country is in the vanguard of the development of new transport technologies, including automation.The government is supporting the safe, transparent trialling of this pioneering technology, which could transform the way we travel.”

The announcement has arrived in the form of a new code of practice. This document details new rules and regulations for automobile companies to follow when testing a driverless car in the UK. Companies working on these cars will need to provide security details to the ministry after carrying out a thorough risk assessment. Also, before trials, they need to inform the relevant authorities as well as emergency services.

Other than predicting autonomous cars by 2021, the government has also predicted that the UK’s autonomous cars market will be worth 52 billion pounds by 2035.

Backlash

Reactions to this recent announcement by the UK government have been mostly critical, including warnings that the technology is not yet far along enough for road testing.

There have been several incidents cited as examples, including a car crash in Arizona in March 2018 when a driverless Uber car killed a pedestrian and a crash caused when a Tesla on autopilot hit a parked police car in California in March 2018.

Professionals in the transportation industry, as well as journalists reporting on the draft, believe that reducing safety precautions might put lives at risk.

Christian Wolmar, a transport journalist and author of Driverless Cars: On a Road to Nowhere told CNN:

“The idea that they are thinking of allowing these cars on the streets before anything is ready is a mistake and might even put lives at risk.”

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