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Driverless cars: Will self-driving vehicles really be on our roads within three years?

The Government has recently reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to leading the way with self-driving vehicles with a plan to roll them out in our roads by 2025. Some self-driving vehicles might in fact be in our motorways as soon as 2023 in a phased roll-out.

The Government intends to spark a “transport revolution” to better connect our communities and improve road safety.

There is currently an ongoing consultation, seeking views on how self-driving vehicles can be “as safe as a competent and careful human driver”.

A licence may not be needed for self-driving cars

Perhaps surprisingly, the Government does not expect anyone on board a self-driving vehicle in 2025 to require a driving licence, despite the recent changes to the Highway Code.

Announced by the Government on 20 April, the changes to the Highway Code require that while travelling in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to resume control ‘in a timely way’ if they are prompted to – such as when they approach motorway exits.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The benefits of self-driving vehicles have the potential to be huge. Not only can they improve people’s access to education and other vital services, but the industry itself can create tens of thousands of job opportunities throughout the country. Most importantly, they’re expected to make our roads safer by reducing the dangers of driver error in road collisions.”

No easy answer as to how safe self-driving cars should be

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has produced a report which states that there is no easy answer as to how safe self-driving cars should be and that it might not be enough for self-driving cars to be safer than normal cars. It says the public may have little tolerance for driverless car crashes - even if they are safer on average - that are seen as the fault of "faceless technology companies or lax regulation" even if, it adds, on average driverless cars are safer than humans.

Professor Stilgoe, an author of the report, said there were also serious moral questions about how the testing of self-driving vehicles is conducted on public roads, as other road users could in effect become participants in these trials whether they liked it or not. 

"The danger is sort of sleepwalking in to a world in which these changes happen in order to suit one mode of transport - and the benefits then don't get spread very widely," he said.


It remains to be seen whether the cost is likely to be a material barrier to entry, whether the public's interest for self-driving vehicles dwindles if and when there is a high profile incident involving serious injury or death, and whether there will be trade union and other action designed to protect jobs such as delivery drivers which rely upon humans driving. 

Although it's exciting that the UK has the interest and desire to lead the way, mass usage of self-driving vehicles still seems many decades away. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by collisions on the roads at our dedicated traffic accidents claims section

The Government has unveiled plans for the widespread roll-out of self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2025.

The proposals, announced on 19 August, aim to spark a ‘transport revolution’ by improving road safety and better connecting communities.”