UK Re-writing Traffic Laws as Self-driving Car Tests Begin

As self-driving car tests begin in the UK, the government is looking to change some of the rules of the road.

Photo Caption: The Lutz Pathfinder is being used in Britain's first official self-driving car tests. The Lutz Pathfinder can carry two passengers and maxes out at 15 MPH with enough juice to drive for eight straight hours.

Britain is re-writing its traffic laws to stop self-driving vehicles from causing gridlock and to help them deal with aggressive human drivers.

According to the Daily Mail, one of the major changes will allow cars to drive closer together “with separation gaps between automated vehicles just a fraction of the recommend spaces between automated vehicles compared to those with drivers.” The goal is to prevent self-driving cars from lingering before changing lanes, merging into an intersection or trying to claim a parking spot.

The UK’s Department of Transport will publish this Spring a code of practice that will outline changes that need to be made to the Highway Code. This will be followed by a full review of legislation in 2017.

“Driverless vehicle technology has the potential to be a real game-changer on the UK’s roads, altering the face of motoring in the most fundamental of ways and delivering major benefits for road safety, social inclusion, emissions and congestion,” says transport minister Claire Perry.

The new laws may also legalize tailgating to enable driverless cars to improve fuel efficiency. These changes are being made, among other reasons, because self-driving cars can pass each other and change lanes with greater precision.

Regulations about distance between cyclists and pedestrians may also be changed, as there’s a worry self-driving cars will be stuck for miles because they’ll wait to have enough space to pass.

“If everyone obeyed exactly what it said in the Highways Code, the roads would probably grind to a halt,” Graham Parkhurst, head of an academic research program in Bristol, UK, recently told the Telegraph.

On February 11, 2015, the Lutz Pathfinder made UK history by becoming the first official trial of a driverless car. The Lutz Pathfinder can carry two passengers and maxes out at 15 MPH with enough juice to drive for eight straight hours.

It’s powered by a computer that’s behind its seats, and 22 sensors (including panoramic cameras, radar and laser imaging) help it navigate its environment, which includes pedestrian areas of Milton Keynes.

There will be 40 Lutz Pathfinders to help shoppers, the elderly and commuters travel short distances. A smartphone app will allow people to hail the vehicles for a ride.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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