The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is expected to outline the plans for funding of such research in his Budget statement due on 22 November. It is part of a suite of measures designed to offer a boost to the UK’s technology and science industries, and aims to build on plans to make the country a leader in the development of autonomous vehicle technology. The government has already committed funding to connected and autonomous vehicle research.
The trials are expected to pave the way for fully driverless cars to operate freely on UK roads from 2021, a target announced by the country’s transport minister Chris Grayling earlier in November. Currently, any company undertaking tests on public roads must ensure there is a human present in the vehicle to take control, in case something goes wrong. Several companies have tested autonomous vehicles on UK roads, from university spin out companies such as Oxbotica to carmakers such as Jaguar Land Rover. There are also plans to trial driverless trucks on UK motorways.
The new UK rules will allow companies to test vehicles on any public roads as soon as necessary changes are made to the Road Traffic Act, and the transport secretary is convinced that the testing cars are safe to operate without back-up drivers. The changes to the rules are expected to take around a year, meaning the cars could theoretically be on the roads as soon as 2019. This also means manufacturers will be able to test cars on any roads, not just specified public routes.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of UK motor industry group the SMMT, said: ‘We support government’s measures to make the UK one of the best places in the world to develop, test and sell connected and autonomous vehicles. ‘These vehicles will transform our roads and society, dramatically reducing accidents and saving thousands of lives every year, while adding billions of pounds to the economy.’