Blimey! UK okays driverless car tests on road this year

Self-driving cars will be tested on road in the U.K. by the end of this year, but will have drivers present in the cars, according to a report from the Department for Transport.

Researchers at the University of Oxford are working with Nissan to create semi-autonomous cars that will have a driver present “but are capable of driving fully independently, using knowledge of the environment in which they are driving,” according to the report on improving the road network, published Tuesday.

A trial of the cars on the roads is expected to start later this year, it said.

While there is interest from vehicle makers and their systems suppliers to develop fully autonomous cars, further progress in that direction will depend mainly on ensuring public safety and on updating the law to take account of the new technology, according to the report.

A global market

Google and other companies are testing cars that drive themselves, and U.S. states like Nevada, California, and Florida have permitted testing of the self-driving cars.

But self-driving vehicle technology is not yet at a stage that it can be authorized for use by the public for general driving, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation recommendation to state governments in May.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. recommended that states should ensure at a minimum that a person licensed to drive self-driving vehicles should be seated in the driver’s seat, if a state decides to permit operation of self-driving vehicles other than for testing.

The licensed driver should “be available at all times in order to operate the vehicle in situations in which the automated technology is not able to safely control the vehicle,” NHTSA said. (It said it wasn’t aware of any systems intended for wide-scale deployment currently under development for use in cars that will provide a level of automation at which the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control.

The U.K. has a “fantastic opportunity” to be at the forefront of developments in technologies that can manage actions currently performed by the driver, according to the Department for Transport report. “While the emergence of semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles will not remove the need for investment now in our roads, they have the potential to transform the way we travel on roads,” it said.

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