UK government drives autonomous vehicles development

The UK government announced its growing support for autonomous vehicles in Parliament last week.
Published: Mon 26 Jun 2017

The government wants the UK to be "at the forefront" of self-driving vehicles and it believes the local industry will be worth £28bn by 2035. To support this development, the government has put into place proposals for autonomous vehicle insurance laws.

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill contains plans to push driverless car technology and it includes an extension of car insurance to cover automated vehicles.

The aim of the bill is to "ensure that compensation claims continue to be paid quickly, fairly and easily.”

Lawyers have long argued that getting the legal framework right is essential if automated cars are to become popular, according to Peter Allchorne, a partner at law firm DAC Beachcroft, who told BBC News that the measures were needed.

"The pace has been picking up on vehicle automation in the last 12 to 18 months and this proposed legislation comes as no surprise."

Autonomous vehicle trials ramp up

In addition to the new insurance laws, codes of practice for the testing of autonomous vehicles are being established and numerous trials across the country are in motion.

The latest of these tests is in Nuneaton and will be carried out by the collaboration of autonomous tech from Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata Motors. The scheme, called Autodrive, has demonstrated how vehicles can communicate to pass on information about what lies on the road ahead. Initial tests have been completed and the systems will be tested on public streets in Coventry and Milton Keynes later in 2017.

Autodrive consists of three main systems: an emergency vehicle warning technology, intersection collision warning, and in-vehicle signage. The systems all operate in a similar way. That is, the vehicle alerts a driver, either using sound or visual images, about the upcoming conditions. If another vehicle is detected coming across a road's intersection, the driver will be alerted by the vehicle. If an emergency services vehicle is approaching, a signal will be sent to the car driver before it arrives.

Other connected vehicle tests being completed as part of the project include the transmission of traffic light data to vehicles, as well as warnings of potential accidents, i.e..when a nearby vehicle is slamming on brakes. Drivers will even be alerted to available car parking spaces.

The companies behind the project have called it the "largest collaborative trial" of autonomous technologies in the UK.

The trials will begin before the end of 2017 and commence on "segregated sections" of roads before being introduced to open roads ahead of the project's 2018 completion date.

As well as the Autodrive scheme, the number of autonomous pods used on paths in Milton Keynes is set to increase to 40. Since October last year, small vehicles called LUTZ Pathfinders have been trialled to carry people around the city.

Driverless pods are transporting people around Greenwich, after being adapted from use at Heathrow Airport, and both Nissan and Volvo aim to test their vehicles in London.

Creating safer and cleaner roads

Tim Armitage, the UK Autodrive project director, said in a statement that the technologies can make roads safer if widely adopted.

In 2015 alone, more than 85% of reported collisions that caused personal injury involved human error, according to government statistics.

The government is investing over £200m in research and testing infrastructure and is hopeful that the advent of driverless cars can have a profound impact on road traffic accidents.

The government has also committed to spending £600m during this Parliament to support the growing market for low-emission vehicles. In the first quarter of 2017, 13,800 ultra-low emission vehicles were registered, up 17% from the same time last year.

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