Science & Technology

Self-Driving Cars Are Coming to the U.K. Early Next Year


a self-driving car

The U.K. government just announced that driverless cars will be hitting public roads less than half a year from now. The Department of Transport (DOT) had previously planned to allow autonomous cars on the road in late 2013, but they just announced that January 2015 will be the first time someone can take an autonomous car out for a spin.

Vince Cable, the U.K.'s business secretary, recently unveiled the new plan at an automotive engineering firm called Mira, saying:

"Today's announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society."

The U.K. DOT also invited three cities to partake in trials as volunteers starting next year. Ten million euros will be divided between the three cities to help cover the costs. Researchers at Oxford University have been experimenting with the cars over the past couple years. 

Despite the many potential benefits of self-driving cars, such as the elimination of human negligence and decrease in traffic congestion, there has been some pushback from government agencies. The Guardian uncovered objections from the FBI through Freedom of Information Act requests. Officials claimed in a report that:

"Autonomy … will make mobility more efficient, but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon that it is today."

Despite the government's quibbles, countries around the world are exploring driverless cars. Here in the U.S., California, Nevada, Florida, Michigan, and the District of Columbia have all passed laws regarding self-driving cars, and potential legislation is on the docket in more states. In Japan, Nissan started testing their self-driving cars in 2013. A city in Sweden has permitted Volvo to test 100 driverless cars, but those experiments won't be taking place until 2017. 

Google's autonomous vehicles alone have already travelled 700,000 miles after getting permission from Nevada to test their technology on public roads. They have gone all of those miles with only getting in one crash, which happened when a driver ran into the back of them. 

Read Ron Bailey's The Moral Case for Self-Driving Cars