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Government announces connected roads and driverless cars trial in UK

By raccars Published

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Are you ready to see driverless cars on the UK's road network? The Government thinks so.

Would you be concerned if you noticed that the car next to you on the motorway didn't have a driver at the wheel? You will need to get used to the idea because that's what will be happening, sooner rather than later, in the UK. Highways England recently announced a new £150 million project which will see British roads used to trial new wireless and radar systems and to develop autonomous driving technology.

Connected roads

The Hindhead Tunnel in Surrey is one of the sites set to be used as a testing point for radar technology which will monitor traffic and pass on real time data to traffic control centres. It means that information about incidents such as accidents and breakdowns can be disseminated quickly and accurately, helping drivers to avoid congestion.

Vehicles fitted with special wireless technology will be included in the trial. They will be able to receive real time traffic updates on connected motorways. The first stretch of motorway to receive the wireless treatment will be on the M2/A2 between Kent and London, where wireless monitoring equipment will pass on real time traffic information including breakdowns and accidents to connected vehicles. The system can recommend alternative routes to drivers or even suggest when it is appropriate to change lanes.

As part of the plan, upgrades will be carried out to modernise junctions on A roads and to create new maintenance and emergency refuge areas. The scheme proposes to make A roads 'expressways' to support the free flow of traffic.

The Government is looking at proposals to improve the functioning of existing junctions, which include modifying traffic light patterns according to traffic flow and using sensors to monitor the state of traffic flow on roads, tunnels and bridges. As part of the plan a new Test and Innovation Centre will be built to carry out research and development on traffic issues.

Trials of driverless cars

Another part of the scheme will see autonomous cars tested on UK roads by 2017, as announced in March by Chancellor George Osborne in his Spring Statement. Highways England will be collecting real world data supplied by the self-driving cars and will be considering the applications of the technology on the UK road network.

Highways England is testing the theory that autonomous vehicles could help Britain's roads to become safer and to flow more freely, which can only be good news from both a societal and economic perspective. The agency is also keen to keep Britain at the forefront of research and innovation for the automotive industry.

Drivers on the M5 between Exeter and Bristol will also notice trials of new fuel price signs next year, again as part of the same project.

Car Insurance costs to fall

In the longer term, if the mainstream uptake of autonomous driving cars reduces the number of accidents on British roads and makes them safer, then insurance premiums should fall quite dramatically. Research suggests that on a global scale, insurance costs could reduce by up to £14 billion within a decade.

The number of cars being sold which are fitted with some form of autonomous technology or wireless connectivity is rising fast. Industry analysts predict that by 2020 these features will be found in over two thirds of new cars.

As car buyers claim that they are prepared to buy according to new technology rather than brand loyalty, car manufacturers, policy makers and insurers are being pushed to keep up and to develop laws and regulations governing the use of these technologies on public roads.

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