Driverless cars will be on UK roads by 2021

Natasha Christou
July 26, 2019

The UK government announced recently that we can expect to see fully autonomous cars on Britain’s roads by 2021. The Department for Transport revealed that the UK is ‘on track’ to meet testing requirements for self-driving cars within the next two years. With automotive technology advancing rapidly, it’s no surprise that autonomous vehicles will be hitting the roads so soon – but can manufacturers guarantee safety and how is the market expected to advance?

It’s not surprising that the first companies to develop a fleet of fully automated vehicles will be set to cash in. Allied Market Research estimates that the market for self-driving vehicles will grow to £500bn by 2026, with the industry in the UK set to be worth £52bn by 2035. Here, with Motorparks Ford Dealerships, we take a look at why we can expect driverless cars to be with us very soon.

Technology: Automated vs human

Technology has not only improved the driving experience, it has also improved driver safety. For example cruise control, surprisingly developed way back in 1948 and introduced to vehicles in 1958, has allowed us to give our feet a rest from the pedals while sticking to a continuous speed, there has been many more inventions that have paved the way for fully autonomous vehicles.

Lane Keeping Systems allow drivers to stay within their lane on the motorway if they accidentally start to drift out. However, if the lines aren’t clearly visible ‘ either due to weather conditions or poor markings ‘ the system will not work. Although this may be the case, and this system still requires driver interaction, it visibly shows the capabilities we have in allowing the cars to do the work for us. As well as this, many cars now have Auto Emergency Braking (AEB). This is a feature that can detect objects in your path and alert you to any immediate crash hazards, scanning up to 200 metres ahead. Research in 2015 found that cars with this system were 38% less likely to collide with a vehicle in front of them, while other findings have revealed that AEB can cause a huge reduction in fatal and injury crashes.

These technologies still require some human interaction of course, but they do show just how smart our vehicles have become. For vehicles to become fully autonomous, they will have to include cloud-based networking and connectivity. This will allow them to learn from other vehicles and enable them to make on-road adjustments due to shifting conditions and detours. Central to making sure that our self-driving cars are able to quickly and automatically adapt to the on-going surrounding scenarios are advanced algorithms, AI and deep learning systems.

Testing autonomous cars

Manufacturers have been testing autonomous vehicles for decades. In 2018. Google subsidiary, Waymo, launched a self-driving robotaxi service in Phoenix, Arizona. The UK’s government is also moving forward with trialling several schemes. It was announced in February that a process is being developed to support advanced trials, but they will not be supported if rigorous safety assessments haven’t been passed first. These assessments were first laid out in 2015 in the ‘code of practice’. This means that automated vehicle trials will be possible on any road in the UK, so long as the tests are compliant with UK law and have a remote driver present.

Although at present these tests are few and far between, they are expected to rapidly increase in the near future. The Department of Transport (DoT) revealed its belief that testing on a large scale could happen sooner than expected and shortly the need for a human to sit behind the wheel won’t be necessary, as they think the UK’s tech is very advanced when it comes to autonomous vehicles.

The advanced driverless trials that will be on the UK’s roads later this year are another stepping stone in helping the government hit its commitments to having self-driving cars on the road by 2021. The UK’s automotive minister, Richard Harrington, said: “We need to ensure we take the public with us as we move towards having self-driving cars on our roads by 2021. The update to the code of practice will provide clearer guidance to those looking to carry out trials on public roads.”

The automotive industry is undergoing a period of rapid change. With self-driving cars getting ever closer and the government’s ban on new petrol and diesel models in the not-too-distant future, it’s an exciting time for the industry as we know it.

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