Driverless cars to force changes in the Highway Code

The Highway Code could be reformed to allow driverless cars in the UK.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Science Minister David Willetts signalled the change to the code and said as it currently stands is unsuitable for testing the country's own efforts with driverless cars, such as those being tested by the department of engineering science at the University of Oxford.

"There is British technology, and it's a lot cheaper than the Google technology," said Mr Willets.

"But whereas the Google car, they have notched up more miles, so we have got to ensure that the British 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."

RobotCar UK, Oxford University's attempt at a driverless car, uses a normal PC in the boot that is connected to cameras and lasers around the car body. The car can go into autopilot mode on routes it has driven before. It also allows the driver to take control back by pressing the brake pedal. The researchers believe that the cost of this system could eventually reach 100. The prototype system costs 5,000 at present.

Amendments to the United Nations' 1968 Convention on Road Traffic has made allowances for autonomous cars as long as they "can be overridden or switched off by the driver".

Current regulations in California also stipulate that a driver must be present in the car on public roads but these are in the process of being changed to allow for Google's latest driverless car having no normal controls for steering and driving.

Willetts said such changes mean that it is important that the UK also do likewise.

"What America is going to have is a legal regime in California that permits you to travel in one without requiring someone in the so-called driver's seat," said Willetts. "You need a regulatory regime so that these are permitted."

The Science Minister said he was in discussions with the Department for Transport about the new for new regulations to deal with autonomous cars. "We need to work on these type of regulations so that as the technology develops in Oxford and elsewhere we can see them used."

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.