Road Safety News

Minister pushes for driverless cars

Tuesday 14th May 2013

Driverless cars may arrive on Britain's roads in around 20 years and a Government minister is pushing for a change in law to help make this a reality (The Economic Times).

David Willetts (pictured), minister for universities and science, says that he has persuaded the DfT to relax regulations to allow an Oxford University team to test a self-drive vehicle on public roads.

The move is expected to pave the way for such cars to hit the roads within 20 years, according to The Economic Times.

David Willetts told the Sunday Times: “In California they have a regulatory regime in place that permits these cars to operate on public roads. The DfT is now going to introduce a regulatory regime that makes that possible here.”

Mr Willetts, who oversees technology policy, has tested Google's driverless car on highways in California and wants British scientists to have the same freedom.

The Oxford University-based RobotCar project uses a modified electric Nissan Leaf fitted with a combination of cameras and high-tech laser sensors which help to control everything from steering to direction-indicating.

Malcolm McCulloch, at the RobotCar base, said: “Driverless cars will happen, they are an inevitability. Much of the technology is already in existing vehicles.”

Click here to read the full The Economic Times report.


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"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

We may not have the right tech now, but who knows about the future? If this does become possible and can be implemented (even if in 50 years time) the good they can do for people with mobility issues, and maybe even road safety issues. I really think the debate on should we or shouldn't we do this is gone now, there will be this type of vehicle in the future at some point, time to focus on influencing how it's implemented for good uses.

May not happen in our lifetime, but it will happen. I never thought when I was a child that I could walk round the street talking on a phone or be told where to go (when lost) by satellites.

P.S totally agree tech is not ready yet!
Anthony, Nottingham

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

The road environment is far more complex than those that airplanes operate in. Would these robotic cars be clever enough to ease off the throttle when an aggressive driver behind starts to overtake? It'll be quite a while before this technology comes in so on with the challenge to improve human drivers!
Dr James Whalen DSA ADI (car), Wolverhampton

Agree (7) | Disagree (1)


I think that an ECU can do a far worse job than a human as they are not as intelligent as a human. ECUs can only make decisions based on what's programmed within it's firmware whereas a human can make its decision based on judgement and commonsense. (I have been around computers for more than 30 years, so I am very well aware of their advantages and disadvantages).

Aircraft usually have fixed flight plans and are in communication with various control towers via radio talkback, radar and telemetry. That's what makes aircraft safe. Road users on the other hand (including pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, etc.) will travel to their required (various) destinations via any route. Therefore, there is no sensible analogy between road users and aircraft.
Phil, Kent

Agree (8) | Disagree (5)

What I find funny is we all get on planes and they have basically been flying themselves for years, don't see why cars should be any different. As long as it's tested completly I'm sure it will be nothing to worry about (although I'm sure the first time one crashes the population will panic). I guess it all depends on where you stand on computers and new tech and fear of the unknown. Computers can't do a worse job than we already do ourselves when driving.
Anthony, Nottingham

Agree (8) | Disagree (5)

Whether you love this idea or hate it, it's fascinating to contemplate how things would change as a result. Could you programme your car to go and pick up the children from school? Would car parks become a thing of the past if you could send your car to park in a street and come back for you? Could you sleep while the car took you to the south of France or beyond? The possibilities are endless, and in a way it seems sad that the main barrier to the idea appears to be the issue of culpability for when it goes wrong. In view of Idris's comment, it would be interesting if humans had been tested for reliability before private motor transport were introduced, and whether we would have passed the test. Given the annual number of collisions in which the only factor is loss of control, I suspect not!
Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton

Agree (20) | Disagree (3)

I agree with Irdis to an extent. My main fear is what would happen if a vehicle's firmware crashes and causes the vehicle to be involved in a fatal accident. That is why I think that drivers should in full control of their vehicles and not interfering firmware.
Phil, Kent

Agree (5) | Disagree (5)

We've got driverless trains and now pilotless commercial aircraft, driverless cars are not such a stretch of the imagination. Saying it won't work just smacks of flat earth thinking. Didn't people say humans couldn't survive moving at such speed when the steam engine was first invented? We know human error causes the vast majority of collisions, surely the next logical step is to remove the human element which is the weak point in the system?
Dave, Leeds

Agree (13) | Disagree (3)

You are clearly a man of strongly held (and expressed) views! Could you see a role for 'driverless cars' in helping to keep older people independent and mobile for longer?
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety GB newsfeed

Agree (14) | Disagree (5)

I can see a role for driverless vehicles in resricted areas such as airport, freight yards and so on. However, I would resist strongly ever being forced to get one. I also ride a large cruiser bike! What is the situation with failure of software or interference from 3rd parties when an incident occurs. Who is liable - the passenger, as they are not in control of the vehicle or the software company? It will be a magnet for hackers, as I am sure the security required would be very expensive and an open invitation to many.

Agree (11) | Disagree (8)

Completely mad - I recently received an excellent analysis of how reliable the systems would have to be to ensure fewer accients than drivers cause - no prospect whatever of it being achievable. And how alert would drivers be in emergencies when something goes wrong?
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (7) | Disagree (14)

Do I take it that these driverless cars will have no one on board. perhaps their owners are working on computors at home instead? Keeps the petrol consumption and tax revenues up anyway.
bob Craven. Lancs.

Agree (1) | Disagree (5)

A dark day for good old fashioned common sense. I think driverless vehicles is a stupid and dangerous idea. Drivers should be in full control of their vehicles, not firmware.
Phil, Kent

Agree (10) | Disagree (13)

How much more amusing (and still plausible) it would have be if the word 'for' had been accidentally deleted from the headline and it read "Minister pushes driverless cars"
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (3)

My 2CV, an "existing car", drives by itself. The door may open on a sharp bend but it lacks the technology Mr McCulloch refers to. In fact it lacks technology full stop.
Peter Westminster

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)