UK government will require steering wheel in automated cars

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In a move that isn’t too surprising since the technology is still in its infancy, the British government has made it clear that any automated cars on British roads in the forseeable future, will require a steering wheel and pedals for the ‘driver’ in case something goes wrong and they should need to take control. While likely to be a feature of most driverless cars, it’s very contrary to the idea of certain shuttles and Google’s Pod vehicles, which feature no input mechanisms beyond a navigation system.

While these rules will apply to all driverless vehicles, they’re designed mostly to apply to the upcoming trials of driverless cars that are taking place across the UK in the next few months. Several different types of driverless cars will be trialled and all of them will require a secondary set of controls. On top of mandating that those controls be there though, the government is also making it law that the person behind the wheel remain alert, watching the road as if they were driving.

Doesn’t that sort of make it a bit redundant to have a driverless car then? If you have to pay as much attention as before but move even less?

meridian

However, this isn’t necessarily designed to give the passenger the ability to save the day should something go wrong, but rather a way of placing blame on them should that happen. One of the big moral quandaries of piloted cars, is who is responsible in the event of an accident? Questions like that are why the UK is running so many trials, to discuss potential solutions. For the mean time though, it’s still the ‘driver’ who’s responsible.

Of course chances are, once driverless car technology has been more thoroughly tested, the public is happier with it and it’s been shown to be capable of what we need it to do, chances are these stipulations for driverless vehicles will fade away – though I imagine the implication that the ‘driver’ is still at fault when a crash occurs will remain.

One question this does raise however, is how some of the automated vehicles set to be trialled around the UK in a few months time will be equipped with a wheel. Certain vehicles, like the Meridian shuttle don’t feature any sort of control systems or even placement for such a wheel. They’re public transport systems for campuses and similar – who’s responsible then?

It’s not yet clear if the trials set to take place in several US cities will also require drivers to remain aware during their trips in the piloted vehicles, but it wouldn’t be surprising. It’s a very easy way to make sure that insurance companies stay in the loop for a few more years at least.

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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.