British ministers have first trip in driverless cars

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With the driverless car trials now taking place in the UK, it’s no surprise that many of the proponents of the scheme, including members of parliament, are now stepping up to have some of the first goes in the different vehicles that are being tested around the country.

Two of the first to step up were business secretary Vince Cable and transport minister Claire Perry, both of whom travelled around the exterior of the O2 arena recently in one of the self-piloted Meridian Shuttles. Their experience was entirely positive, with both describing the experience as indicative of what much more of Britain could look like in years to come.

“Driverless vehicles are potentially the transport of the future in terms of road safety and congestion easing,” Cable said (via the Mail). “The UK can be world leaders in this type of automation.”

Perry described the entire project of testing different driverless vehicles throughout the country as “incredibly exciting,” and said that because more than 90 per cent of car accidents are caused by driver error, that automated vehicles could save countless lives on the road.

The Meridian could usher people around outdoor facilities or university campuses.

The Meridian could usher people around outdoor facilities or university campuses.

Both ministers also inspected other driverless vehicles which will begin use in the UK soon, including a modified Wildcat 4×4 which will be tested around Bristol to see how it performs on and off the road, as well as the public’s reaction to a car being driven without a human being behind the wheel.

Despite their enthusiasm however, the procedure for getting these sorts of vehicles on the roads and in the hands of consumers will be a slow one. Though the trial has been legally sanctioned in the UK, personal usage of the vehicles is not condoned. Legislation to allow cars to drive themselves on British roads is not expected to be cleared until the summer of 2017. The reason it takes so long to amend current laws, is because it will likely mean rewriting much of the highway code, as well as adding new measures to the standardised MOT test and even considering new approaches to insurance and road tax.

However, despite the challenges, it’s clear that driverless cars offer an exciting future for many people. While some may argue that it won’t be long before we’ve all forgotten how to drive because we won’t need to anymore, even a tame version of that sort of future would be exciting for many people. Imagine being able to drive to the pub for a drink and then have your car take you home without you having to worry about being over the limit? Or simply getting out at your work’s front door, letting the car go off and park itself, rather than rushing around trying to find a space.

The space saved by eliminating car parks near city centres could be huge too.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.