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UK braces itself for driverless cars

More time to talk on mobiles, text, watch telly and argue
Wed Jul 17 2013, 11:33
Car crash

MORE OBSERVANT DRIVERS might think we already have them, but we can expect driverless cars on UK roads sometime later this year.

A report from the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin is billed as "Action for roads: a network for the 21st century [PDF]. English road network improvement plans".

It said that driverless cars should be tested before the end of this year, and we reckon we have some likely candidates to try them out.

Drunk drivers would be a good start, as would anyone caught knitting, washing, reading, ironing, texting or talking on a mobile phone behind the wheel.

The highway is getting introduced to the information superhighway. McLoughlin talked of "new, improved motorways for the information age" that build on "pioneering managed motorway schemes to tackle congestion".

He added, "We will take this technology, which has only been used on specific links, and apply it as a standard to some of our busiest national routes."

The report said that driverless cars, or semi-autonomous vehicles, have already been tested with some success, including one trial in Oxford involving a sort of wagon trail of Nissan motorcars.

"Researchers at Oxford University are currently working with Nissan to use this technology to create semi-autonomous cars. These vehicles will have a driver present but are capable of driving fully independently, using knowledge of the environment in which they are driving," it added.

"A ground-breaking trial of these vehicles on the road is expected to start later this year."

Those would be semi-autonomous machines that will inform the driver when they detect it is appropriate to take over control over the vehicle, and we assume that this might be with parking or something.

The full monty of a chauffeur-free chauffeured experience is still some time off, however, and the use of driverless cars ultimately will come down to whether fully automated cars will spend their days crashing into other cars, shop windows, pedestrians, fruit stands and other roadside hazards.

"Fully autonomous cars remain a further step, and for the time being drivers will have the option (and responsibility) of taking control of the vehicle themselves. Vehicle manufacturers and their systems suppliers continue to explore the opportunities for full autonomy," added the report.

"Further progress will depend foremost on ensuring public safety and on updating the law to take account of the new technology." µ


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