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U.K.’s ‘advanced’ self-driving car trials won’t require human safety drivers

It’s not just rival companies that are racing to introduce self-driving cars to the market. Different countries are also seemingly competing to cement their high tech-friendly statuses by embracing autonomous vehicle testing. With this in mind, the U.K. government announced that it is moving toward “advanced trials” of self-driving cars — meaning trials which do not have human safety drivers on board.

No exact timeline is given for these advanced trials, but the government’s report notes that they will not begin until eligible vehicles have first passed “rigorous safety assessments.” It also describes how it is implementing a “world-leading code of practice” that will govern the testing of these self-driving cars. The U.K. government has said that it wants to have fully self-driving vehicles on the road by 2021.

“Thanks to the U.K.’s world-class research base, this country is in the vanguard of the development of new transport technologies, including automation,” Jesse Norman, Future of Mobility Minister, said in a statement. “The government is supporting the safe, transparent trialing of this pioneering technology, which could transform the way we travel.”

The U.K.’s previous “code of practice,” published in 2015, stipulated that automated vehicle trials can be carried out on any U.K. road — so long as certain stipulations (like a human backup driver to step in and take control) are met. The new guidelines supposedly “acknowledges the growing desire of industry to conduct more advanced trials, and a process to handle such trials on public roads.”

“We need to ensure we take the public with us as we move toward having self-driving cars on our roads by 2021,” Automotive Minister Richard Harrington said. “The update to the code of practice will provide clearer guidance to those looking to carry out trials on public roads.”

There are still plenty of questions that will need to be answered as self-driving cars continue to roll out around the world. However, the fact that that this kind of autonomous tech is now being so readily embraced by governments is a testament to just how far the technology has come in the past decade.

Let’s hope that the U.K. government’s faith in self-driving vehicles is well-placed.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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