Driverless cars are coming to roads in Britain in 2015


A prototype of a driverless car is seen in a photograph provided by Google in Mountain View, California May 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Google Inc/Handout via Reuters)

Britain will test driverless cars on public roads beginning in 2015, bringing the country ever closer to world’s (inevitable?) driverless future.

In just six months, it plans to complete a full review of its highway and traffic laws to prepare for both cars without drivers and cars where drivers can regain control of the vehicle, according to the Guardian.

“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,” said Business Secretary Vince Cable, according to the BBC.

Cable also announced a £10 million (nearly $17 million) competition that will finance the testing in three cities. They expect the testing to last between 18 and 36 months

With this announcement, the U.K. is officially in the driverless car game, but it’s well behind other countries, including the United States. Driverless cars have been tested on California roads for years, logging more than 700,000 autonomous miles, Google says. In Nevada, Florida, Michigan and Washington, D.C., legislatures have already passed bills regulating them.

Initially the British government had set a goal to begin testing the self-driving cars by 2013, but it blew past that deadline.

And while real-world street testing is a critical step in the process of getting these cars on the road, there’s still a long way to go.

Like the U.S., Britain still hasn’t figured out one of the more pressing issues with deploying the technology: who pays when a crash happens?

And though Google first announced its self-driving car project in 2010, years of testing later, the cars still aren’t close to consumer-ready. It wasn’t until 2012 that California introduced their law governing the self-driving vehicles, and 2014 when the state announced it would issue licenses to the vehicles for testing.

The technology, on the other hand, has far outpaced regulations. California and Nevada laws require that the driver be able to regain control of a self-driving car. But earlier this year, Google unveiled a new prototype that doesn’t have a steering wheel or brakes at all.

Startups and car companies are also working on plans to retrofit existing cars with driverless technology. The cars are thought to be safer—guided by dozens of tiny sensors surrounding the vehicle and software that predicts movement of other objects on the road. Their proponents believe they eliminate worries about distracted driving, tiredness, and road rage. These groups are investing in the hope that consumers will get over their initial jitters and come around to their way of thinking that cars are better at this whole driving thing than drivers.

Here’s how Google’s self driving car works:

In this video from Google, its self-driving car navigates some common scenarios on city streets near the Googleplex. Google originally posted the video in April 2014. (Google)
Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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