The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Autonomous Automobiles UK Approves Tests of Driverless Cars

Eager for an edge in the tech race, the UK has approved driverless cars on public roads for the first time. Three cities will host 18 to 36-month trials starting in five months, in anticipation of further liberalization. The Financial Times reports:

Driverless cars have been given the green light to drive on UK roads from January following a government review into how Britain can win the global race to develop the technology.

Vince Cable announced new measures on Wednesday to review road regulations, and launched a £10m competition for up to three cities to bid to become test locations for driverless cars, a move trailed in December’s Autumn Statement.

The business secretary called on UK cities to join together with companies and research organisations to put forward proposals. Up to three trials are expected to start in January 2015, taking between 18 and 36 months to complete.

Now that driverless cars have made it through the “Wright Brothers” era of early development, there will be a race to get them on the road, legally as well as practically, as fast as possible. The horizon, as the UK testing dates indicate, is short: full legalization will be possible by the time this year’s high school freshmen graduate.

The acknowledged safety benefits of driverless cars may induce regulators to be more accommodating than usual when it comes to new technology. The UK decision is a good sign, both in and of itself and for the prospect that it could set off a competitive reaction from other governments. In the U.S., California, Florida, and Nevada have all green-lighted tests of driverless cars, with other states considering doing so.

Published on July 30, 2014 12:47 pm