Whitehall maps out Blighty's driverless future

DfT hopes £100m of YOUR cash won't be a car crash

The UK's Department for Transport – with £20m of R&D taxpayer money on the table (the first tranche of a total £100m) – has published a code of conduct for driverless car testing.

Whitehall hopes to push British motor makers ahead of the game in getting driverless cars on the road, the DfT said.

The code follows on from a February DfT review of UK legislation, which concluded that road tests of driverless cars were legal if there's a licensed driver on board in charge of the test, and the vehicle stayed within Blighty's road laws.

The code of practice the DfT has released doesn't ignore security.

Cars should be immune to hacks, the government department said, warning that handling information about test drivers “will amount to the processing of personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998”.

Furthermore, “all prototype automated controllers and other vehicle systems have appropriate levels of security built into them to manage any risk of unauthorised access”.

The DfT's code of practice is aimed at companies wanting to test driverless cars, and most of its provisions are straightforward: cars must carry insurance, and firms testing cars on public roads are advised to notify local emergency services and police.

Test drivers need to be trained so they know when to take over control or at least initiate emergency stops, the code added, and they need a good understanding of the processes involved in passing between manual and automatic control.

Before a self-driving car is let loose on public roads, the code said, it will need to have passed in-house tests on closed roads. Concern was also expressed for “vulnerable” road users:

Vehicle sensor and control systems should be sufficiently developed to be capable of appropriately responding to all types of road users which may typically be encountered during the test in question.

This includes more vulnerable road users, for example disabled people, those with visual or hearing impairments, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, children, and horse-riders.

At a minimum, data-logging should record whether the vehicle is operating under manual or automatic control; its speed; steering and braking data; lights, indicators and horn use; inputs from sensors (for example, are there other vehicles or road users around?); and "remote commands which may influence the vehicle's movement". ®

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