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Transportation United Kingdom

UK To Allow Driverless Cars By January 190

Posted by Soulskill
from the crucial-to-development-of-the-tardis dept.
rtoz sends this news from the BBC: The UK government has announced that driverless cars will be allowed on public roads starting in January next year. It also invited cities to compete to host one of three trials of the tech, which would start at the same time. In addition, ministers ordered a review of the UK's road regulations to provide appropriate guidelines. ... The debate now is whether to allow cars, like the prototype unveiled by Google in May, to abandon controls including a steering wheel and pedals and rely on the vehicle's computer. Or whether, instead, to allow the machine to drive, but insist a passenger be ready to wrest back control at a moment's notice.
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UK To Allow Driverless Cars By January

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  • Safety (Score:5, Funny)

    by Old Aylesburian (2780221) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @11:43AM (#47567293)
    Just needs a requirement for a man to walk ahead carrying a red flag.
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @11:46AM (#47567333)

    good they have NHS so one some gets hurt they not left with big bills while the courts are working out who is at fail and who will pay the bills.

  • by GameMaster (148118) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @11:47AM (#47567345)

    We've had that here in the US for decades. We call it street parking.

    • That's why this will never work in the UK. All street parking there violates some rule. Google would have to cram a Cray in each vehicle just to find spaces.

  • Obviously the US will not have this for some time ("Oh my god, somebody might sue!"), it's nice to see at least some countries see the advantage of cars that can drive themselves better than humans can drive them, even if the self-driving cars are not perfect. I would expect initially they would require a licensed driver behind the wheel, at least until the technology has proven itself.

    • by linearZ (710002) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @11:59AM (#47567471)
      The US has had this for a while.

      Nevada legalized driver less cars a couple of years ago. Google will be running an autonomous taxi service in Vegas: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tec... [telegraph.co.uk]
      • by Wootery (1087023)

        Try your luck with our driverless cars!

      • by jxander (2605655)

        Google HQ is in California, so they started there. They've expanded to include Nevada, Michigan and Florida, so far.

      • by trawg (308495)

        I actually went to a talk last night by someone from the Ohio State University that has been working on autonomous cars for ~20 years.

        He talked specifically about licensing in Nevada - they have licenses available now but only for testing purposes: http://www.dmvnv.com/autonomou... [dmvnv.com]

    • by Jahoda (2715225) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:06PM (#47567543) Homepage
      Except for the fact that it was the vehicle trials which occurred in the US (california, nevada), trials that demonstrated the safety of these vehicles and which have caused the UK to fully allow them on the roads in Jan 2014, rather than their initial plans for trials to occur by the end of 2013. While the article does not explicitly state this to be the reason for the change, I believe it to be a fair presumption that the 300,000 miles google's cars have driven in Califonia were taken into consideration.
      • Except for the fact that it was the vehicle trials which occurred in the US (california, nevada), trials that demonstrated the safety of these vehicles and which have caused the UK to fully allow them on the roads in Jan 2014, rather than their initial plans for trials to occur by the end of 2013. While the article does not explicitly state this to be the reason for the change, I believe it to be a fair presumption that the 300,000 miles google's cars have driven in Califonia were taken into consideration.

        Trials are different than allowing manufacturers to sell driverless cars or allowing the general public to drive them. Even the Nevada law just instructs the DOT to set safety standards for driverless cars, which they have not yet completed. That also doesn't address insurance, which all cars in the US are required to have to drive on public roads. If the insurance companies won't insure the cars because of the litigation-happy Americans, the only way to drive such a car would be to underwrite the insura

        • by Jahoda (2715225)
          And incidentally, I assure you that insurance companies will be MORE than eager to offer reduced premiums to drivers of cars which eliminate human error. This is a foregone conclusion, and it will begin with the automation trucking and shipping and extend from there.
        • by geekoid (135745)

          America is not actually litigation happy. Stop using the news and pundits as is they are accurate.

          The insurance is not that big of a deal.

        • by u38cg (607297)
          Hi. I work for an insurer. We cannot wait for driverless cars. Sure, there will be some difficult accidents and difficult litigation, especially initially, but that will be nothing compared to getting rid of the rear-end texting shunts, SMIDSY collisions, running red lights, and all the stupid-ass things that motorists already do that cost us money. Bring it on.
      • in Jan 2014

        Jan 2015. And I don't see any "fully" about it - these are still to be trials.

    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      US states have already proposed it, although I am not sure if they have passed it.
  • by X!0mbarg (470366) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @11:56AM (#47567449)

    Once they start to roll, there will be a logical progression of complaints, starting with "They're too slow."
    Next will be "They're blocking traffic flow/causing traffic jams."
    Possibly among the next bunch of complaints:
    "They move erratically/unpredictably"
    "They wait too long at/stop too soon for traffic lights"

    Most of the complaints will revolve around the simple fact that the autonomous cars will be driving 100% according to the rules of the road, and 95+% of the remaining drivers don't. Things like stopping for yellow lights, driving at the actual speed limit, slowing for merging traffic, properly signalling turns and lane-changes, etc.

    In the end, the autonomous cars will reduce traffic jams, as they can intelligently travel in clusters, all in communication with each other, and even vary their routes for volume, all while staying moving at a reasonable clip.

    The problem will come in when people deliberately try to mess with them, forcing them into emergency maneuvers by cutting them off for exits (for example), or cutting in front and slamming on the breaks (road rage).

    Here's hoping they are outfitted with outward-facing cameras for recording such acts of stupidity.

    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      Oh, I guarantee you that they will have a ton of cameras and they will always be recording.

      The real benefit will be when some cop that has 'failed to report the broken camera in his car', stops one of these and the camera in the car records him screwing up.

    • Agreed. People are going to freak out about that car in front of them following the rules 100%

      Humans play it fast and loose... we either gamble or assume from experience that a cop won't pull us over on this particular stretch of road for going 5MpH over the speed limit but the WILL on that stretch or at that time of day.

      But... some cops / towns WILL pull you over for just going 1MpH over the speed limit. It's rare, but it happens.

      So the car will have to be built to follow the rules exactly: speed limit,

      • by OhPlz (168413)

        It will be fun figuring out how to game the automatic vehicles. I'm sure they're programmed in some situations to pull aside. All you have to do is figure out what the trigger is. It's like playing with the blind spot sensors on the vehicle in front of yours.

        • by qbast (1265706)
          Yes, about as much fun as trying to freak out live driver and cause accident.
        • However, I bet they're going to be chock full of cameras and sensors, so maybe a few reckless drivers will get caught out with their shenanigans.
        • It will be fun figuring out how to game the automatic vehicles. I'm sure they're programmed in some situations to pull aside. All you have to do is figure out what the trigger is. It's like playing with the blind spot sensors on the vehicle in front of yours.

          This cars will be driverless, but not passengerless. And they will have lots of cameras taking evidence. So when you collected enough points to lose your license, you'll have to buy a self-driving car yourself.

      • by CreatureComfort (741652) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:52PM (#47567991)
        I think that the main reason people speed, race the yellow, and in other ways behave as general asshats when behind the wheel is the inherent understanding that every second spent driving is a wasted second. You notice you rarely see passengers road raging. Once everyone becomes a passenger, and transit time becomes productive time, whether it involves work, updating facebook, playing games, or getting a few extra minutes of sleep, much of the incentive to rush goes away.

        Personally, I generally drive like a bat out of hell, and regularly am cussing the idiots who wont get out of my way. But, once I get my autonomous vehicle (I plan to be a very early adopter) I won't care that the car is doing the speed limit, stopping when I would have chanced it, not changing lanes into the "fastest", etc. I'll be reading, sleeping, gaming, etc. In fact, once my commute becomes reliable productive time, I can see myself getting irritated that I get to my destination before I've finished my chapter, level, quest, etc.
        • I see people flip out when:

          - Plane is running late
          - Their train hits a snag: trouble on the rails, power issue, etc.
          - Their bus hits traffic
          - Their ferry is running late

          Plane rage is the worst... but people (in the US) keep their cool inside the plane because they don't want to get sky-marshalled or put on a no-fly list. Then again I've never been in a "wait on the runway for 5 hours in the hot summer" situation.

          The train rage is the next strongest of the three... though nowhere near as bad as on the road.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            The rage comes from fear they will mist the ride. Once there, no need to rage. Baring unusual circumstance.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          I hate being a passenger because I can't read in cars without feeling sick. All I can do is listen to the radio or audio books. The seats are too uncomfortable to sleep in... But perhaps if someone made a car with seats that folded flat like a bed it would work.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        People will get used to it in a hurry. Too mach gain.

    • by singularity (2031) *

      Agreed - every complaint about self-driving cars has been for the migration time when there are both autonomous and human-driven vehicles on the roads.

      When you take human drivers out of the equation, and autonomous vehicles are the norm, utilizing things like mesh networks to keep other nearby vehicles informed, all of the complaints suddenly disappear.

      Autonomous cars might wait at lights longer, and stop for more yellow lights, but imagine a line of vehicles stopped at a light all accelerating at the exact

    • If they can manage to use a passing lane to pass, then move to the right, they'll be less of a hazard to traffic than around half of human drivers.

      If they can operate at the speed limit, they'll be moving faster than most Prius drivers.

      Any complaints will be coming from morons.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kheldan (1460303)
      I, for one, will NEVER ride in or own a vehicle that does not have a steering wheel, foot-actuated throttle pedal, foot-actuated brake pedal, foot-actuated clutch pedal (where applicable), gear selector lever, etc. and I know I'm not alone in this. I don't care HOW foolproof they make them. I will NEVER put my life in the hands of some programmer or team of programmers, not even if they're riding in the car with me. I'd sooner go back to riding a motorcycle 100% of the time, all year 'round, and by the way
      • by jxander (2605655) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @01:27PM (#47568293)

        You do realize that unless you're driving a 1950 era automobile, you're already putting your life into the hands of programmers

        What do you think happens when you step on the gas pedal? Do you think it's still physically pulling some cable that opens flapper valves, allowing more fuel to flow into a carburetor? Nope. It's all electronic now. You stepping on the gas sends a single to a computer "He's pushing for 25% throttle" which was designed by programmers to actuate your fuel injection at the proper flow rate.

        What about that transmission? Unless you drive manual, you're not actually moving gears around with that lever. You're sending a signal to a computer "Put it in drive" which was also designed by a programmer.

        Brakes still have a physical connection, for now, but that's only as a backup. The vast majority of your breaking is done digitally, just like the throttle

        • What do you think happens when you step on the gas pedal? Do you think it's still physically pulling some cable that opens flapper valves, allowing more fuel to flow into a carburetor?

          I haven't worked on anything newer than about 10 years old but every fuel-injected petrol engine I've played with has had a mechanical butterfly valve operated by the pedal. The fancy electronics then measures mass flow rate (which is a function of throttle plate position, air temperature, air filter condition, engine rpm, etc) and injects the right amount of fuel. It's not *that* different from a mechanical carburettor except that carburettors measure volumetric flow and have to be tweaked for summer/winte

          • by jxander (2605655)

            You win this round, you rogue...

            But truthfully, it's only getting more and more digital, even without the computers controlling the actual steering (yet). You mentioned a threshold of ~10 years back. That's a lot of time for change. I promise you, you won't find any butterfly valves on a Tesla or Nissan Leaf (and this is half true for Hybrid cars.) I'm also fairly certain that they don't have Manual Transmission options.

            It's going to be a slow process, to be sure... but frankly, I already trust a comput

      • by digitig (1056110)

        I, for one, will NEVER ride in or own a vehicle that does not have a steering wheel, foot-actuated throttle pedal, foot-actuated brake pedal, foot-actuated clutch pedal (where applicable), gear selector lever, etc. and I know I'm not alone in this

        You never ride the subway, then? I don't think trains have steering wheels...

        • by kheldan (1460303)
          Subway cars and trains run on tracks, they can't be sent off in arbitrary directions. Other than that I'm sure there are manual overrides to activate mechanical brakes. Not even a valid comparison so far as I'm concerned.

          Someone else mentioned planes. I rarely fly anywhere nor do I anticipate much of a need to do so anytime in the near future. I'm talking about automobiles here.

          Does my Toyota Tacoma have a potentiometer connected to the throttle pedal? Yes. Do I not have control of the vehicle? Sure I do,
      • by xaxa (988988) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @04:41PM (#47570101)

        I, for one, will NEVER ride in or own a vehicle that does not have a steering wheel, foot-actuated throttle pedal, foot-actuated brake pedal, foot-actuated clutch pedal (where applicable), gear selector lever, etc. and I know I'm not alone in this. I don't care HOW foolproof they make them. I will NEVER put my life in the hands of some programmer or team of programmers, not even if they're riding in the car with me.

        Have you ever used a train, including a metro train? A good many are electronically controlled (rather than levers etc), and -- especially on metro systems -- many have no more input from a driver than a "ready to proceed" button. Some don't even need the driver to press the button -- usually when there's not a union in the way. Signalling systems have been electronic for ages.

        (Yes, cars are a lot more complicated -- but automatic trains have been running since the 1980s.)

        • Bad comparison (although I'm pro-driverless car), unless you're thinking of dedicated driver-free lanes that basically turns the supposedly autonomous vehicles into glorified train cars. You might as well say that driverless cars are as safe as elevators and when was the last time an elevator killed someone?

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Do you ever fly? All modern aircraft use fly-by-wire, so you are trusting the programmers. Most modern cars have some kind of drive-by-wire system, especially performance models that often do things like braking force distribution and traction control.

        • the FAA does / mandates alot of testing and code review of that code. Also there are like 4-5 cpus that all must come up with the same out put if not the auto pilot shuts down.

      • by Twinbee (767046)
        At first I thought you cared about the thrill of the experience being taken away. Then I thought you worried about the safety issues. And then finally, you seemed to care about the privacy issues.
  • by BigSlowTarget (325940) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:05PM (#47567531) Journal
    We have 30k+ deaths a year from traffic accidents in the US. The UK could not be too far behind per capita. Driverless cars have a flawless safety record. Even if they screw up and kill somebody it won't be anything like 30k/year. That means every day we don't deploy driverless cars here kills something like 90 people. It's sad governments seem more interested in BS like lawsuits, gun control and drug wars instead of actually preventing people from dying.
    • by OhPlz (168413)

      Driverless cars have a flawless safety record.

      They used to say that about the Concorde.. right up until it didn't.

      • This argument contains a number of problems, none of which completely invalidate what you're trying to say:

        1. Concorde wasn't discontinued due to passenger safety risks. It was expensive to buy, expensive to fly, and expensive to maintain.
        2. If a severe accident caused by an autonomous car happened today, right now, 2 or 3 even, it would still have a substantially better average safety to mile driven record against the average driver. Right now it's beating out good drivers and tying exceptional drivers

        • by digitig (1056110)

          1. Concorde wasn't discontinued due to passenger safety risks.

          [citation needed]

          Because of the low fleet flight hours, that one accident gave it the worst safety record of that generation of aircraft. It was retired because it would have been too expensive to make it safe.

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            Concorde was retired because it was 1960s technology in an era of fly-by-wire 'glass cockpit' designs, and passenger levels fell dramatically after 9/11, making it uneconomical to operate.

    • by HuguesT (84078)

      That's a good point, however driverless cars are still being used in very controlled situations, and for the moment require a huge, expensive array of sensors coupled with fragile, powerful and expensive computers. Even if we wanted we could not replace a significant number of cars on the road with driverless ones. The problem is not some kind of legal or administrative red tape, the problem is to make the technology simple enough, robust enough and cheap enough that it comes by default on most new cars lik

    • by u38cg (607297)
      Actually, the UK has significantly less - something like 3/4 per 10,000 as opposed to the US, which is something over 10 per 10,000. The disparity is smaller after controlling for miles driven but still around half. Mostly due to better driver training, safety standards enforcement, and drink-driving laws.
  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:10PM (#47567577)
    I fully expect the lads from Top Gear to seek them out for a little harassment - especially Clarkson.
  • by Chelloveck (14643) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:31PM (#47567789) Homepage

    Requiring a human to be ready and able to take control in an emergency is just plain dumb. The human in question will be distracted. They'll be texting or playing Flappy Birds or doing any number of things that a passenger might do during a commute. Even if you require that their hands be on the wheel at all times they'll get bored and daydream and be absolutely useless in an emergency situation.

    The only reason you'd want to require human controls would be in case the vehicle gets into a (non-emergency) situation that it can't deal with. Think about a situation that would normally be wrong, like parking on a lawn or driving on the wrong side of the road due to a blockage or something like that. Something that requires a judgement weighing the letter of the law against the practical realities of the situation.

    • by MDMurphy (208495)

      I agree. Expecting a driver who's had no interaction with the vehicle for a long period of time to be alert and ready to grab the wheel is a fantasy. Having a "no driver" vehicle from the beginning is the better approach than relying on the fiction of an alert and ready human backup driver.

      One article I read about VW's automatic steering mentioned that the driver always have to have their hands on the wheel, indicating their presence and keeping them engaged. That seems a better idea than a system that w

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      But it works so well for aircraft. Look at AF447, for example.

      Oh, hang on, they couldn't figure out what was wrong and flew the plane into the sea.

      You're right, though: if a car requires a human to be there to take over at any moment, it's hardly 'driverless'. It just has a cruise control that can steer as well as control the speed.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        " after which the crew reacted incorrectly and ultimately led the aircraft to an aerodynamic stall from which they did not recover.["

        It was the crew.

      • Look at how many people drive into the ocean or off an offramp into a pit when their GPS says to do so.

        Now multiply it by 65 mph fiery balls of doom.

        Throw in a few bad weather conditions - floods (drowning), bridge failures (plummet to death), three cars all aiming for you at the same time - and you've got lifetime employment for every English Barrister.

    • The human at the wheel is there to take the blame in case something goes wrong. The requirement of having a human at the wheel will also soothe the fears of passengers of both autonomous* and manually driven automobiles, a measure that should help the adaptation of autonomous vehicles and thus save lives.

      * Google, putting the "auto" into "automobile" since 2005.

  • UK vs US roads (Score:5, Informative)

    by cliffjumper222 (229876) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:31PM (#47567793)
    Whenever I travel to the UK, I'm impressed and often overwhelmed with the level of visual information that there is when driving - UK roads are fantastically well lined and signposted, they are especially good at night with reflectors/cats eyes down the middle of the road and often different colored ones on the side of the road. As you drive down a freeway/motorway there will typically be at least 4 or 5 signs warning you of a turn-off - two actual directions, and then 100m count-down signs! In the US, you're lucky if there's more than one, and usually that one single sign is just before the turn-off! Of course, computer-driven cars will be able to use GPS/satNav, but driving in the UK is like driving a video game compared to the US. In a lot of Colorado cities, they don't even paint a line across the road at the stop/traffic lights!
    • We had a relative from Europe complain about our lack of signage. He lives in Austria but he travels all over.

      In any case, he was under the impression that our highways and roads would have way way more signs stating how to get to the various cities. Like that exit 26 would help you get to towns W / X / Y/ Z. Or that every-other intersection in town would say would list 6 nearby towns and distance/direction.

      We tried to tell him that at least in our state, the most you would see is the city that a freeway

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Did you tell him you were surprised Australians need so much hand holding to get around? :)

  • ...we will forget how to drive. Do you really want someone who hasn't driven in months or years to suddenly wrest control of the car during an emergency situation and expect the outcome to be better than what the computer could handle?
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:42PM (#47567897) Homepage

    Or is this not an issue in the UK?

    Because, if it's a driverless car, I'm not taking any control or responsibility for the vehicle other than telling it my destination.

    If the car can suddenly say "Oh, crap, you take over I don't know what to do" then it defeats the purpose.

    If you're going to have truly driverless cars, then you need to determine who takes liability if it runs over a person. Because I'm going to be sleeping in the back seat or reading a book.

    Somehow, I doubt the companies making these cars have stepped up and said they're so confident in their technology that they'll take responsibility. And someone who has disengaged themselves from the act of driving (like reading a book) can't immediately switch to being in control of the vehicle. If I have to keep tabs on it and be responsible at a moments notice, then what is the benefit at all?

    Every time this comes up, it just seems like nobody has actually addressed this yet.

    You want a driverless car? Make sure I can crawl into the backseat after a night at the pub and not have to worry about it. Until then, this is really advanced cruise control, but you still need to be aware the whole time.

    • This is one of the many reasons why I won't be an adopter, or at least an early adopter.

      If I have to babysit the car second-to-second, then there's little point in having the car.

      And I won't trust the car to not malfunction and kill me or someone else, so chances are I will be monitoring it. Maybe the car companies / Google / whoever will say "trust me, you can sleep in the back seat" but I'll have a hard time accepting that for at least another 15 years.

      And lastly... I trust myself as a driver (never had

    • by lakeland (218447)

      Yes, they've 'solved' it. Basically when you hit the start button you take liability.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Once we're stepping out of the realm of advanced cruise control and into active driving, it will clash even if they don't want to take responsibility. "I didn't expect my car to make the turn and fail to yield, you can't expect me to undo every mistake" "I saw it coming and could brake down, but my car didn't realize and speeded up and caused the accident" "I tried to hit the ditch and avoid those school kids but my car refused to go off the road, running them over."

      And once you've seen the computer do a ma

    • by geekoid (135745)

      IF it's due to improper maintenance? then it's your fault.
      Manufacture defect? Manufacturers fault.

      This is no different then if a hand brake fails and a car careened down and his some one.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      The owner will need insurance, but it will be much lower for self driving cars without any manual controls. Even self driving cars with a manual mode will be cheaper, on the assumption that people will drive on auto much of the time.

      • The owner will need insurance, but it will be much lower for self driving cars without any manual controls. Even self driving cars with a manual mode will be cheaper, on the assumption that people will drive on auto much of the time.

        In the UK, you'd have to consider what a driver with a normal car would be. If you just got your driving license, the cost of insurance is incredibly high. On the other hand, a self driving car with the most inexperienced and reckless driver as a passenger will be just as safe as a self driving car with an experienced and careful driver as passenger. So for young people, the insurance savings will be enormous.

    • Even if the system requires babysitting, it will probably improve the performance of impaired drivers. Think sleepy, drunk, or old people with poor attention, perception, and/or reaction time, narcoleptics, diabetics who got careless about blood sugar, "indestructible" teenage drivers, Mr I-Can't-Leave-My-Cellphone-For-Five-Minutes, parents with cranky kids, Mrs I-Can-Eat-Drink-And-Put-On-Makeup-Whlie-Driving, Mr I-Talk-With-My-Hands-And-Always-Make-Eye-Contact, folks who like to gawk at accidents/scenery/g

  • There's just one problem. They're rubbish.

    .
  • to not operate a vehicle?

    We also would have accepted:

    "So that's why I've seen so many student driver cars on the road with nobody in the driver seat."

  • As a motorcyclist I'm deeply concerned about the possibility of driverless cars on the roads. I don't think the state of AI and computers is anywhere near sophisticated enough to control a vehicle safely in traffic. Lord knows, cars with real drivers are dangerous enough already
    • by geekoid (135745)

      You're not the speciecal, got over ypur self.

      You are a loud moving blob, they'll see you.

  • Who's responsible in case of accident? The car owner or the software developer?

  • I want some of the weed they're smoking. I don't think the tech is ready yet.

  • can they make them drive on the right side of the road?

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