RAC Cars News


Highway Code rewritten for driverless cars

By raccars Published

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UK government ministers are making the changes necessary to the Highway Code to allow companies like Google to drive their autonomous cars on British roads. The current laws are not adequate for the new raft of driverless cars being developed across the world. In May, Google demonstrated their latest autonomous vehicle. Unlike earlier models, which were adapted standard models, the new car is completely purpose-built for autonomous driving. There is no steering, gear stick or pedals and the car instead only has on and off buttons. The Google vehicle navigates by a combination of GPS, digital maps, laser and radar technologies.

Google intends to build and test 100 prototypes of the car later this year. In the UK, meanwhile, scientists at the University of Oxford’s engineering science department are designing a car that is capable of memorising routes as it recognises the surrounding environment. The car then offers the driver the option of using an advanced 'auto pilot' when it takes the same route. With this car, the driver can take over control of the car at any time by tapping the brake pedal.

California is expected to issue the state's first licences for self-driving cars in September. In the UK, science minister, David Willetts, has said that he has already held talks with the Department for Transport, to discuss changing the law to allow such cars to drive on UK roads. Mr Willetts hailed the progress being made by the team at Oxford University, saying: "We are one of the world leaders in this. There is British technology, and it's a lot cheaper than the Google technology. But whereas with the Google car, they have notched up more miles, so we have got to ensure that the British one has its own opportunity to get tested in a wider range of environments and that's what we are working on with the department for transport."

The Government has an infrastructure plan which includes provisions for reviewing laws to support the testing of driverless cars. The United Nations Convention on Road Traffic has also been altered to reflect the introduction of driverless car technology. The relevant passage used to say: "Every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle or to guide his animals." This has now been changed to allow a car to be autonomous in operations, so long as it "can be overridden or switched off by the driver."

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