Transport Minister Claire Perry has announced a review of the testing regime for driverless cars, which she describes as “a bit weird”.
She said the Department for Transport (DfT) would lead a review of the relevant regulation and legislation to ensure there is a clear and appropriate regime for the testing of driverless cars in the UK, while ensuring public safety.
Perry said that “the idea of tech-enabled driving feels a bit weird”, and that “it’s a revolution that for many feels a bit sci-fi”.
But she added that it “has the potential to revolutionise transport – and particularly road transport”.
Perry said that applying digital technologies to railways had allowed trains to run safely closer together, delivering greater capacity, and that there were even greater possibilities with automated vehicles.
“I see a future where driverless buses provide better and more frequent services,” she said. “A major component of rural transport is the cost of the driver - and so a truly driverless bus could transform rural public transport in the future.
“Once we have resolved any regulatory issues that the department’s current review might highlight, this could be just the initiative to get the first driverless bus on the road.
“But it’s driverless cars and commercial vehicles where the biggest gains will be delivered. “Driver/human error is reported to account for over 90% of traffic incidents, and so it is clear that driverless cars will make a huge difference.”
Perry pointed to a video released by Google showing a man who was reported to have lost 95% of his vision driving a Google-car, as an example of what was possible with the technology.
The DfT has set up a trial programme with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to demonstrate driverless vehicles in towns and cities.
In July, a £10M fund was launched for collaborative research and development projects to look at how driverless cars can be integrated into everyday life in the UK.
Perry said the DfT is also looking at ‘platooning’ of heavy goods vehicles on the trunk road network – the electronic coupling of vehicles to run in close formation.
“By allowing vehicles to run closer together, the government recognises the potential fuel and carbon savings, reduced congestion by creating more efficient use of the network, and reduced road casualties by eliminating driver error from accidents,” she said.
“The department has recently concluded a feasibility study of platooning on the UK trunk road network using vehicles with partial automation, but with a driver in each vehicle. I recently approved the next phase of research and know that work will be getting underway in 2015.”