Government Code of Practice Accelerates Introduction of Driverless Cars.

The move to launch Driverless cars on the roads of the UK took a further step forward with the publication of a code of practice allowing them to be tested on public roads. The document - issued by the Department for Transport and aimed at manufacturers - allows for “real-world testing of automated technologies".

And what does “real world" mean in practice? Well, ultimately that driverless cars can be tested in controlled conditions on public roads or other public places. Prior to this however extensive testing should have been completed on private roads.

In line with safety standards it is a requirement to have a human driver in the cabin who could take over if needed, and that, in line with current laws, that driver must be insured, hold a valid UK driving licence, and comply with all of the UK's normal road laws.

The code of practice extends many current obligations and insists that drivers will also need "skills over and above those of drivers of conventional vehicles," including a high level of knowledge about the technology used, as well as extensive training into transitioning between conventional manual control and an automated mode.

Cars are required to be fitted with a "data recording device," which can capture data from the various sensors and control systems used for automated driving, at "10Hz or more." This includes whether the vehicle is operating in manual or automated mode, its speed, steering and braking prompts, operation of lights and indicators, the presence of other road users, and use of the horn. The data should be "securely stored," and if necessary be "provided to the relevant authorities upon request."

In order to not confuse other motorists, drivers will also need to be "conscious of their appearance to other road users," and appear as if they are actually driving—even in automated mode—so talking on your phone would, as it is today, be illegal.

The Code of Practice also suggests that highway authorities are alerted to testing zones, and that a specialised contact is set up with the local police and fire services.

Presently non-statutory in its obligations, the code has been developed to promote responsible testing and is expected to be implemented in conjunction with a detailed knowledge of the legal, regulatory and technological landscape. Failure to follow the Code may be relevant to liability in any legal proceedings however compliance with the Code does not guarantee immunity from liability in such circumstances.

Commenting on the importance of this technology, Transport Minister Claire Perry said:

“Driverless cars are the future. I want Britain to be at the forefront of this exciting new development, to embrace a technology that could transform our roads and open up a brand new route for global investment.

These are still early days but today is an important step. The trials present a fantastic opportunity for this country to take a lead internationally in the development of this new technology."

By Tracey McBain