The UK Government has unveiled its plan to roll out self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2025, backed by a £100 million investment.
Revealed on 19th August, the plan prioritises safety through new laws and aims to create thousands of new jobs in the industry over the next few years. Some vehicles, including cars, coaches and lorries, with self-driving features could be operating on motorways as soon as next year.
The government hopes that the new plan will enable the UK to take full advantage of the emerging self-driving vehicles market, which is estimated to create up to 38,000 jobs and grow to be worth some £42 billion.
“The benefits of self-driving vehicles have the potential to be huge,” said Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary for the UK Government. “Not only can they improve people’s access to education and other vital services, but the industry itself can create tens of thousands of job opportunities throughout the country.
“Most importantly, they’re expected to make our roads safer by reducing the dangers of driver error in road collisions.”
The self-driving vehicle revolution
In the past, self-driving cars have been seen as the stuff of science fiction to many, but not for much longer thanks to innovative advances within ultrasonic sensors, AI-powered tyres, and digital twins.
Promised to improve road safety and benefit disabled drivers, self-driving cars have long been hailed as the next transport revolution, with the advent of autonomous travel expected to have far-reaching effects across nearly all aspects of modern transport.
In fact, ongoing developments in autonomous driving are occurring not only in regard to cars, but also in trucks, planes and boats used for freight. In particular, the trucking industry is undergoing its own autonomous revolution, with start-ups and established OEMs investing no small sums in a bid to dominate the sector.
“We want the UK to be at the forefront of developing and using this fantastic technology,” said Shapps. “That is why we are investing millions in vital research into safety and setting the legislation to ensure we gain the full benefits that this technology promises.”
Investing £100 million
The UK Government’s vision for self-driving vehicles is backed by a total of £100 million, £34 million of which will be dedicated to research to support safety developments and inform more detailed legislation.
The government has also set aside £20 million to help kick-start commercial self-driving services and enables businesses to flourish and create jobs in the UK. The funding follows an existing £40 million investment awarded to projects looking at the promise of self-driving vehicles for grocery deliveries and shuttle pods in airports, among other tasks.
A further $6 million will be dedicated to further market research and to support the commercialisation of the technology.
According to the government, vehicles that can drive themselves on motorways could be available for purchase within the next year, while other self-driving vehicles, such as those used for public transport or delivery, are expected on the roads by 2025.
“Self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise people’s lives, particularly by helping those who have mobility issues or rely on public transport to access jobs, local shops and vital services we all depend on,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK Government’s Business Secretary.
“This funding will help unlock the incredible potential of this industry, attracting investment, developing the UK’s growing self-driving vehicle supply chain, and supporting high-skill jobs as these new means of transport are rolled out.”
The government’s new ‘safety ambition’
Alongside the pledged £100 million investment, the UK Government is also consulting on a ‘safety ambition’ for self-driving vehicles to be as safe as a competent and careful human driver. Building on existing laws, the ambition aims to inform set standards that self-driving vehicles need to meet if they are intended for use on the country’s roads, with manufacturers facing sanctions is these standards are not met.
The new laws for the safe rollout of self-driving vehicles by 2025 will be brought forward ‘when time allows', the government said.
The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’s (CDEI) Responsible Innovation in Self-Driving Vehicles report was also published alongside the government’s announcement, setting out proposals for a trustworthy approach to the regulation and governance of self-driving vehicles.
“The automotive world is changing rapidly and so the government is right to embrace the positive changes offered by this new technology and back it by funding research and putting forward legislation,” said AA President Edmund King. “Assisted by driving systems, for example, autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, are already helping millions of drivers stay safe on the roads.
“It is still quite a big leap from assisted driving, where the driver is still in control, to self-driving, where the car takes control,” he continued. “It is important that the government does study how these vehicles would interact with other road users on different roads and changing weather conditions.
“However the ultimate prize, in terms of saving thousands of lives and improving the mobility of the elderly and less mobile, is well worth pursuing.”