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UK government moves forward on advanced trials for self-driving vehicles despite industry expert con

Trials could see NO driver or steering controls present in vehicles on UK roads

In a signal of support for the UK automotive and technology industries, the government has announced today that a process is being developed to support the advanced trials of automated vehicles despite concerns from market experts. Advanced trials will not be supported unless they have passed rigorous safety assessments, but could include the need for no safety driver or steering controls present in the vehicle. In response to feedback from industry, the government has also announced that its world leading code of practice for testing automated vehicles will be strengthened further to set even clearer expectations for safe and responsible trials. The government suggests that the news would reinforce the UK’s status as a global leader in the safe and responsible testing of automated vehicles despite widespread expert concerns that the technology isn’t ready for the roads yet. With the UK’s market for connected and automated vehicles estimated to be worth £52 billion by 2035, the government are keen to open investment from global transport technology companies. The government aims to meet its commitment to have fully self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2021, as part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy. Minicab firm Addison Lee and Oxbotica, a British self-driving vehicle software developer, agreed an alliance in Autumn 2018 that they claim will accelerate the implementation of autonomous vehicles on London’s streets. Under the agreement, the two companies agreed to collaborate on the development, deployment and operation of autonomous vehicles with a view to providing customers self-driving services in London by 2021. Jesse Norman, Future of Mobility Minister, said: “Thanks to the UK’s world class research base, this country is in the vanguard of the development of new transport technologies, including automation. “The government is supporting the safe, transparent trialling of this pioneering technology, which could transform the way we travel.” Richard Harrington, Automotive Minister, said: “The UK has a rich heritage in automotive development and manufacturing, with automated and electric vehicles set to transform the way we all live our lives. “We want to ensure through the Industrial Strategy Future of Mobility Grand Challenge that we build on this success and strength to ensure we are home to development and manufacture of the next generation of vehicles. “We need to ensure we take the public with us as we move towards having self-driving cars on our roads by 2021. The update to the code of practice will provide clearer guidance to those looking to carry out trials on public roads.” However, driverless industry experts have warned the technology is nowhere near ready for real world testing. Christian Wolmar, a transport journalist and author, said: “This is cart-before-horse stuff. This technology is nowhere near ready to be let loose without an operator in control. “This is so far ahead of what’s feasible and it is going to put lives at risk. We should have a driver on board at all times and even then I think these trials should be limited to more controlled areas like dual carriageways and motorways.” Charlie Henderson, a roads specialist at PA Consulting, said: “Everything I have seen in the last year suggests that the development of autonomous vehicle capability is still slow. We are likely to see autonomous vehicles in a very limited form on our roads by 2023 but there is unlikely to be widespread public adoption for ten years.” In March 2018 a 49-year-old woman was killed by a self-driving Uber, which included a human behind the wheel, as she crossed a road in Tempe, Arizona. The ‘code of practice’, first published in 2015, makes clear that automated vehicle trials are possible on any UK road provided they are compliant with UK law - including testing with a remote driver. The update to the code acknowledges the growing desire of industry to conduct more advanced trials, and a process to handle such trials on public roads is now being developed. Under the strengthened code, those carrying out trials for automated vehicles will be expected to publish safety information, trial performance reports and to carry out risks assessments before conducting a trial. Trialling organisations are also expected to inform the relevant authorities, emergency services, and anyone who might be affected by trial activity.   

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