Ministers are rewriting the Highway Code to allow driverless cars on Britain’s roads.
The law is inadequate for the new generation of vehicles being developed in the US and Britain that will pilot themselves.
Google has unveiled a computerised self-driving car, which has no steering wheel, brake or accelerator, just buttons to start, pull-over, stop and a computer screen to show the route. It navigates by GPS and Google Maps. Google plans to have prototypes ready to test in California later this summer and says the goal is for the car to “shoulder the entire burden of driving”.
Meanwhile, academics from Oxford University’s department of engineering science are developing a car that can memorise a route, such as a school run, by “recognising” its surroundings. It can offer to engage auto-pilot when it runs that route again, with the driver regaining control with a tap of the brake pedal.
In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles is expected to issue the first licences for self-driving cars and their human pilots in September.
Mr Willets stated:
“You need a regulatory regime so that these are permitted. What America is going to have is a legal regime in California that permits you to travel in one without requiring someone in the so-called drivers seat. Certainly there are new regulations being drafted in California and obviously this is something I have discussed with the Department for Transport, we are aware of it. We need to work on these type of regulations so that as the technology develops in Oxford and elsewhere we can see them used.”
The Government’s infrastructure plan commits to reviewing the law to “ensure there is a clear and appropriate regime for the testing of driverless cars that supports the world’s car companies to come hand test them here.”
Britain will also benefit from recent changes to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, which dates back to 1968.
It used to state: ‘Every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle or to guide his animals.’ An amendment agreed last month would allow a car to drive itself, as long as the system ‘can be overridden or switched off by the driver’.