In the United Kingdom, there are a set of driving rules that all motorists must abide by. Published in a government-printed book called the Highway Code, these rules have been around since 1931.
A compulsory driving test introduced four years later that everyone had to pass before they could drive on Britain’s public roads. Over the years, the Highway Code has been revised and updated, but now it seems the rule book has to be completely rewritten – thanks to Google.
You may have heard about how autonomous or “driverless” cars have been tested in track and road conditions for many years now.
Numerous technology firms around the world, as well as car manufacturers with a vested interest in autonomous driving, have been racing to come up with an affordable vehicle that works well in virtually all driving conditions.
Google’s prototype autonomous car
I read with interest how Google has unveiled a prototype autonomous car that has no steering wheel, brake, accelerator or clutch pedals. With a maximum speed of just 25 mph and two seats, the car is reminiscent of a small bubble car.
Although Google has been testing the technology on production cars such as the Toyota Prius pictured above, it seems the search engine giant has been secretly working on its own cars using the same kit for a while now.
Google is developing 100 prototypes that would need to retain manual controls in order to comply with the autonomous driving laws in California, Nevada and Florida.
Chris Urmson is the director of Google’s autonomous car project, said the reason they want to build cars with no controls is that humans have a habit of taking manual control even though there was no requirement to do so – potentially resulting in a dangerous outcome.
He argued that driverless cars would significantly improve road safety and transform the way people travel on our roads each day.
Why the law needs to be changed in Britain
Even though Google and other technology firms have been developing autonomous cars and driving systems for many years in the United States, many of which were tested on public roads, the story is different across the pond.
According to John from Jay New Nelson, the only major work carried out in Britain to develop autonomous systems is mainly carried out by the University of Oxford. Academics there have been working on a car that can memorise routes and recognise surroundings, although their version is semi-autonomous.
As it stands, the current road rules in the United Kingdom cannot accommodate such vehicles to be tested or driven on public roads, and so the entire Highway Code now has to be rewritten.
Government ministers have been keen to get the Highway Code rewritten so that further attempts at creating autonomous driving technology in Britain can continue. The changes will also coincide with changes to the UN’s convention on road traffic.
That all seems very promising for folks in the UK and the USA. Perhaps 10 years from now we might all be transported in autonomous vehicles?