The UK OKs Self-Driving Cars on Its Roads

Illustration: Randi Klett; Cars: iStockphoto

Soon, the United States won’t be the only place where cars regularly drive themselves. The UK government announced this week that it will permit driverless cars to traverse its roads beginning next January. The nation’s Department for Transport is set to review existing road rules to determine which ones need to be updated to accommodate self-driving vehicles. The agency will try to differentiate between how the laws will apply to vehicles in which the driver and the car trade off control versus cars that never cede control to a human.

The government also announced a competition of sorts, wherein cities would compete to host three separate trials of robocar technology.The three cities that prevail in the road trial sweepstakes will split a £10-million fund set up to pay for the testing, which is slated to last for between 18 and 36 months.

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable, who made the announcement at one of automotive engineering firm Mira’s research facilities, said he envisioned government support for self-driving cars, “…putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society.”

British engineers have already been tinkering with driverless cars, but their robocars have thus far been absent from public thoroughfares because of concerns over legality and insurance coverage. But now, with the government’s explicitly stated imprimatur—which it initially said it would give by the end of last year—researchers such as a group at the University of Oxford can now, literally, get their show on the road.

The UK now joins the United States, where California, Nevada, and Florida all permit testing of robocars, as well as Japan, where Nissan did driverless car tests last year, and Sweden, where Volvo has gotten the okay to test 100 self-driving cars in the city of Gothenburg beginning in 2017. 

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