File photo dated 23/8/2019 of traffic along the M3 motorway near to Winchester in Hampshire.

Self-driving cars to hit UK roads by 2025 under government plans

Image credit: PA Wire/PA Images Picture by: Andrew Matthews

The UK Transport Secretary has announced a £100m investment to boost the rollout of autonomous vehicles on the country's roads.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is heavily investing in self-driving vehicles, a technology that it said could "revolutionise public transport and passenger travel" and create up to 38,000 jobs and be worth £42bn. 

Although self-driving vehicles will not be allowed on UK roads until 2025, certain models of cars, coaches and lorries with self-driving features could even be operating on motorways in the next year, the government said.

Users wanting to buy these models would require a valid driving licence to drive the vehicle on other roads, while those that purchase the modes that will be used for the public transport of deliveries and allowed on UK roads by 2025, will be able to be to do so without a driving licence as they would be completely autonomous.

“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," said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. 

In order to ensure that the technology is rolled out safely, the government plans to back the initiative with £34m, which will be used to support further research into safety developments, as well as the development of new laws regulating autonomous vehicles.

A further £20 million will be used to help launch commercial self-driving services – building on an existing £40 million investment – and another £6 million will be used for market research and to support the commercialisation of the technology, the government revealed. 

“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,”  Shapps added. 

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

Autonomous driving is expected to improve road safety by reducing human error, which has been identified as the cause of 88 per cent of all traffic accidents.

Under the planned laws, the responsibility for accidents involving self-driving vehicles will not fall upon the driver or owner of the vehicle. Instead, manufacturers are expected to be held responsible for a vehicle’s actions when self-driving was active. However, using a phone behind the wheel will remain illegal and motorists must be ready to take back control of vehicles when needed.

“The automotive world is changing rapidly and so the government is right to embrace the positive changes offered by this new technology, and back it by funding research and putting forward legislation," said AA president Edmund King. 

“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.”

Currently, fully driverless cars are not legally permitted in the UK. However, autonomous features are being developed by car makers and tested in specific trials such as a bus service in Scotland.

The reasons behind the slow adoption of this technology are, nonetheless, safety concerns. Earlier this year, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that carmakers reported nearly 400 crashes involving automated vehicles in the last 11 months. As a result of these accidents, six people lost their lives.  

Last June, MPs announced the launch of an inquiry into the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles, with the view toward boosting the rollout of this technology in a safe way. 

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