In July last year, the British government said it would review the rules of the road to see if any changes were needed for the testing of driverless cars. Well, the report is out and the tech and auto industries are free to get testing.
According to the regulatory review, there are no legal barriers to testing autonomous vehicles on the U.K.’s public roads today, as long as a driver is present and taking responsibility, and the vehicle complies with road traffic laws. Those doing the testing don’t need to get any certificates or permits.
A code of practice will be published in the spring, and the report promises that it will “be quicker to establish, more flexible and less onerous for those wishing to engage in testing than the regulatory approach being followed in other countries, notably in the U.S.”
Legislation to allow wider deployment of the technology is being promised for mid-2017 – there are several kinks that will need ironing out, most notably around who’s liable for crashes – and the U.K. will push for new international regulations by the end of 2018. Liability aside, other issues requiring examination include “possible cyber threats” and what driving standards will be expected of algorithmic drivers.
The general thrust of Wednesday’s announcement was that the government wants the U.K. to be a testing hotbed for autonomous vehicles. Transport minister Claire “Porn-filter” Perry said in a statement:
Driverless cars are the future. I want Britain to be at the forefront of this exciting new development, to embrace a technology that could transform our roads and open up a brand new route for global investment.
As the government said in December, there will be three state-funded trials of driverless cars, in Greenwich (London), Milton Keynes and Coventry, and Bristol. The trials will involve several kinds of vehicle.
The rather odd vehicle you see at the top is the Lutz Pathfinder Pod from Catapult Transport Systems, which will be tested in Milton Keynes along a route that’s been pre-approved by the local council. Bristolians will get to check out the somewhat more rugged Wildcat autonomous jeep (pictured on the right) from defence outfit BAE Systems, while denizens of Greenwich will be treated to an autonomous shuttle called Meridian.