Out-Law News 2 min. read

Volvo to begin driverless cars testing in the UK next year

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo will test new semi-autonomous cars in the UK from next year, the company has announced.

Up to 100 vehicles could tested in autonomous driving (AD) trials as part of the 'Drive Me London' scheme when the testing programme is expanded in 2018, Volvo said. It said "real families" will be involved in testing the vehicles on public roads.

"Volvo will source its data from these everyday users and use this data to develop AD cars that are suitable for real-world driving conditions, rather than the more unrealistic conditions found on test tracks," Volvo said in a statement. "Thatcham Research will be providing the technical data analysis and any professional test drivers needed as part of the trial."

Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars, said that autonomous driving can improve vehicle safety. He said: "The sooner AD cars are on the roads, the sooner lives will start being saved."

Peter Shaw, chief executive of Thatcham Research, said: "Vehicle manufacturers are predicting that highly autonomous vehicles, capable of allowing the driver to drop 'out of the loop' for certain sections of their journey, will be available from around 2021. Without doubt, crash frequency will also dramatically reduce. We've already seen this with the adoption of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) on many new cars."

"Research in the US by NHTSA predicts that by 2035, as a result of autonomous and connected cars, crashes will be reduced by 80%. Additionally, if a crash unfortunately can't be avoided, then the impact speed will also drop as a result of the system's performance – reducing the severity of the crash," Shaw said.

Beyond safety, autonomous driving can help address congestion and pollution problems and make journeys more efficient, Volvo said.

Samuelsson said that governments around the world "need to put in place the legislation and infrastructure to allow AD cars onto the streets as soon as possible" to enable the benefits of autonomous driving to be realised.

A recent report by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, highlighted challenges manufacturers face in developing connected and autonomous vehicles, including outdated road traffic laws, complexities in patent licensing and restrictive data privacy rules.

"Volvo's statement is the first firm announcement from a manufacturer that it intends to test its autonomous vehicles on public roads in the UK, and it is unlikely to be the last," Ben Gardner, an expert in autonomous vehicles technology and regulation at Pinsent Masons, said. "The attractiveness of the UK as a living lab for testing autonomous vehicle technology is in part down to the testing code of practice published by the government last year. The code of practice is 'light touch' and not legally binding which means that testers do not have complex and convoluted rules to comply with."

"Testers will, however, have to comply with existing road traffic law and the issue of safety will be paramount. At this stage of the journey towards a world of driverless cars, testing is not solely about ensuring that the technology driving the vehicles works, it is about demonstrating to the public that it is safe and enhances quality of life, productivity and our wider environment," Gardner said.

UK business secretary Sajid Javid said that he anticipates other companies will want to test driverless cars in the UK too.

"Driverless cars will see our journeys become faster, cleaner and safer," Javid said. "The UK is leading the way in developing the technology needed to make this a reality thanks to our world-class research base, and these types of trials will become increasingly common. Such advances in technology prove the fourth industrial revolution is just around the corner, and our determination to be at the forefront is why we are attracting top names from across the globe for real-world testing."

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