Finance minister George Osborne will be announcing the approval of driverless car testing in motorways in the United Kingdom next week, with the testing to commence in 2017.
The testing, which will be allowed for the first time next year, will move forward the country's goal in having self-driving vehicles on its streets by 2020. The government will be looking to lift all the concerned regulatory barriers to allow for such a development within the term of the current parliament.
Trials for driverless car testing will be carried out on local roads this year before they are allowed on motorways next year. The tests will require a person to be inside the self-driving car at all times, with the ability to take over the control of the vehicle in case the need arises.
"At a time of great uncertainty in the global economy, Britain must take bold decisions now to ensure it leads the world when it comes to new technologies and infrastructure," said Osborne in a statement, adding that self-driving cars could be the most fundamental change to transportation since the internal combustion engine was invented.
The United Kingdom is looking to attract investments from the burgeoning worldwide self-driving car industry, which is estimated to be worth $1.29 trillion. The announcement will draw more automakers into the country for their tests, but the government did admit that it first has to determine legalities such as the party that will be responsible in case a self-driving car is involved in an accident.
The autonomous car trials will be funded by the Intelligent Mobility Fund of the government, which is worth £100 million ($143 million). The fund was established to support innovations in transportation technology.
The trials, however, would likely require some lanes in motorways to be closed during testing, the Treasury said. Work has already started to prepare tests for roads located in Bristol, Coventry, Greenwich and Milton Keynes.
Many high-profile companies, including Google, BMW, Mercedes and Nissan, have joined the race to develop the first mass-market self-driving car, and the offer of the United Kingdom for motorway testing should be a good invitation for these companies to perform tests in the country.
However, while development on the technology has grown in a rapid pace, the market for it may not yet be prepared to trust their safety to a computer-driven vehicle. A recent AAA survey claimed that 75 percent of drivers are afraid of letting an autonomous vehicle drive them around.