the government has launched the first official trials of driverless cars which could eventually save motorists six working weeks a year in driving time.
A Government review has revealed that there is no legal barrier to the testing of automated vehicles on public roads.
With the project being given the green light, Transport Minister Claire Perry and Business Secretary Vince Cable will visit Greenwich in south London today to see some of the vehicles that will be used in the trials.
But it could be some years before driverless cars are a feature on the roads. First, the Government will publish a code of practice this spring for those wishing to test driverless vehicles on UK roads.
Then it will be summer 2017 before domestic regulations are reviewed and amended to accommodate the new technology. And it will not be until the end of 2018 that international regulations are likely to be amended.
The domestic changes could see alterations to the MOT test and also a possible revision of the Highway Code.
The Government has also said there needs to be greater certainty around criminal and civil liability in the event of a driverless vehicle being in a collision.
In addition, the Government will consider whether a higher standard of “driving” should be demanded of automated vehicles than would be expected of a conventional driver.
Ms Perry admitted the project was “still in the early days” but said the new technology had the potential to be “a real game-changer”.
The average motorist in England spends 235 hours driving every year – the equivalent of six working weeks.
The new technology will mean drivers will be able to choose whether they want to be in control or hand the task of driving over to the vehicle itself. This would let motorists get on with other things while the car did the driving.
Greenwich is one of three driverless car project centres funded by £19m of Government money. The other projects are at Bristol and in the Midlands where teams at Coventry and Milton Keynes are jointly involved in trials.
Greenwich will today stage the first trial of an autonomous shuttle as well as unveiling the prototype of a driverless pod that will be tested in public areas in Milton Keynes.
The two ministers will also see a BAE Wildcat vehicle developed by aerospace company BAE Systems, which will be trialled in Bristol. For the purposes of the trials driverless cars will still have a fully-qualified driver ready to take over active control if necessary.
Ms Perry said: “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.
“These are still early days but today is an important step. The trials present a fantastic opportunity.”