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At present, autonomous cars are only allowed to be tested on private roads within the UK , yet the Department for Transport has previously pledged to allow driverless cars to be trialled on public roads by the end of 2013.
Following on from this pledge, in December 2013, the Treasury created a £10m prize to find a town or city to become a testing ground for the cars, in a bid to show that Britain can be a leader in such technology.
In his National Infrastructure Plan of 2013, Chancellor George Osbourne outlined his intention to ensure “that the legislative and regulatory framework demonstrates to the world’s car companies that the UK is the right place to develop and test driverless cars”.
For some time, UK engineers including a group based at the University of Oxford, have been experimenting with driverless cars, but concerns over legal and insurance have so far restricted the cars to private roads only.
However, other countries such as the US States of California, Nevada and Florida have been more successful in allowing driverless vehicles onto their public roads. In fact, in California alone, Google’s driverless car has achieved more than 300,000 miles on the open road.
Further countries to have progress with autonomous technology include Japan, whereby in 2013 Nissan carried out its first public road test on a Japanese highway, and the Swedish city of Gothenburg is to allow 1,000 Volvo driverless cars to take the road by 2017.
With autonomous cars well on the way to being legally used on public roads as early as 2020, in May this year Google unveiled further plans to manufacture 100 more self-driving vehicles. The company exhibited a prototype which has no steering wheel or pedals – just a stop-go button.
Google has also put its autonomous driving technology in cars built by other companies, including Toyota, Audi and Lexus, whilst other major manufacturers, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and General Motors, are developing their own models.
Concerns about the safety of driverless cars remains at the forefront of the decision as to whether driverless cars will eventually become legal on Britain’s roads.