UK unlikely to see full self-driving cars before 2035

Royal Air Force trial the use of self-driving cars

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Research firm GlobalData suggested that the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry would not develop a fully self-driving car until the middle of the next decade. Despite this, the Government had hoped to get Britain’s first vehicles approved for self-driving ready for use in 2022.

As part of this, vehicles would undergo rigorous testing and only be approved as self-driving when they meet stringent standards.

GlobalData stated: “We expect the timelines for deploying fully autonomous vehicles (Level 5) to be pushed back over the next few years.

“Companies that have made big bets on the technology will continue to move toward commercialisation, but it could be closer to 2035 before we begin to see any meaningful deployments of fully self-driving vehicles.”

Level 5 autonomy applies to self-driving vehicles that do not require any human interaction, meaning they won’t have steering wheels or pedals, according to Verdict.

However, other stages like Level 3 and Level 4 could be seen within the next seven years.

Level 3 vehicles have “environmental detection” functions, meaning the cars can make informed decisions for themselves but require human override.

The next level after that is considered to be fully autonomous driving, although a human driver can still request control, and the car still has a cockpit.

At this level, BMW states the car can handle the majority of driving situations independently.

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The AV industry has been affected by the global semiconductor shortage, given the reliance on such components for the technology to work properly and safely.

Alyssa Altman, head of transportation and mobility at Publicis Sapient, highlighted the cost of maintaining AVs as being one of the biggest challenges for the industry.

She added: “While the technology behind them is becoming more affordable, the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure needed to support them is still high and complex.”

In April 2022, the UK Government unveiled plans to move closer to a “self-driving revolution” through Highway Code changes.

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This aims to introduce guidelines with the aim of halving the number of road deaths by 2030 and reaching zero road deaths by 2050.

At the time, the Department for Transport said it would ensure the first wave of technology will be used safely, explaining clearly that while in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to resume control.

This would always be when they are prompted to, such as when they approach motorway exits.

The plans also include a change to current regulations, allowing drivers to view content which is not related to driving on built-in display screens, while the self-driving vehicle is in control. 

It will, however, still be illegal to use mobile phones in self-driving mode, given the greater risk they pose in distracting drivers as shown in research.

The Government stated that future technology could improve and level up transport, ease congestion and cut emissions.

In addition, it is hoped it would drastically reduce collisions caused by human error, similar to the European Union’s Vision Zero project.

The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 new, high-skilled jobs within Britain’s industry that would be worth £41.7billion by 2035. 

Trudy Harrison, former transport minister, said it was a “major milestone” for the UK, which would “revolutionise the way we travel”.

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