Government announces £40 million funding for future of self-driving buses and vans in the UK

Government announces £40 million funding for future of self-driving buses and vans in the UK
The UK government has revealed a new £40 million of funding to kick-start commercial self-driving services, such as delivery vans and passenger vehicles.

The ‘Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility’ competition will provide grants to help roll out commercial use self-driving vehicles across the UK from 2025.

Announced by Lord Grimstone, Minister for Investment, the funding could create tens of thousands of skilled jobs over the next decade.

According to a government announcement, the competition will aim to bring together companies and investors so that sustainable business models to be rolled out across the country.

Types of self-driving vehicles that could be deployed include delivery vans, passenger buses, shuttles, and pods, as well as vehicles that move people and luggage at airports and containers at shipping ports.

This is the latest government announcement regarding the future of autonomous cars, as last month the Highway Code was updated to ensure the first 'self-driving' vehicles are introduced safely on roads across the UK.

The RAC Report on Motoring explored the public’s views on car dependency, and with the government’s latest drive to promote driverless vehicles, how will this funding help?

As a part of the competition, £1.5 million will be used to study and explore using self-driving vehicles as a means of public transport that could provide an alternative to mass transit systems.

This includes, for example, using self-driving vehicles on routes separated from other traffic that could be cheaper and more flexible than new railway lines.

Alongside this, the government is looking to continue to develop a comprehensive legal and assurance framework for self-driving vehicles to ensure the safety of the technology.

What does the government class as a ‘self-driving’ vehicle?

Despite the recent push, currently, the government have stated that there are no 'self-driving' or ‘driverless’ cars listed for use in the UK.

This is because existing technology is classed as ‘assistive’, meaning drivers must always remain in control and responsible of the vehicle when behind the wheel.

However, last year the Government announced that vehicles fitted with automated lane keeping system (ALKS) technology could be allowed on the roads.

Designed for use on a motorway in slow traffic, ALKS enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, up to 37 mph, while maintaining the ability to return control easily to the driver when required.

The Government announced that a clear set of instructions for drivers would be issued, where they would have a set of rules for driving while in ‘self-driving mode’. This will largely focus on when a driver should resume control of the vehicle. Although there is no set date for the changes to come into place, it is being reported that it will be before the end of 2022.

Following the announcement, Minister for Investment Lord Grimstone said: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise people’s lives, whether it’s by helping to better connect people who rely on public transport with jobs, local shops, and vital services, or by making it easier for those who have mobility issues to order and access services conveniently.

“This funding will help unlock the incredible potential of this new and growing industry, building on the continued development of self-driving technology, attracting investment, and helping make our transport cleaner, safer and more efficient.”

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), in 2020, 88% of road accidents were caused by human error.

The society estimates that the introduction of self-driving vehicles could save up to 3,900 lives and prevent 47,000 serious accidents by 2030.  

SMMT CEO Mike Hawes said: “Self-driving vehicles offer major benefits to society – improving road safety, supporting new jobs and economic growth, and enabling greater mobility for everyone – so the UK is rightly seeking to be at the forefront of this technological evolution.

“Recent regulatory reforms have helped Britain establish itself as a leader in the rollout out of self-driving passenger vehicles, and today’s announcement is a significant step towards self-driving public transport and goods delivery services becoming a reality.”

What do you make of the latest announcement regarding the future of self-driving vehicles in the UK? Leave your comments below.

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