Driverless cars on our roads by 2021, say UK Government

21st November 2017
Joe Bush

In what some may describe as a rambunctious prediction, Chancellor Philip Hammond will unveil ambitious driverless car investment plans in tomorrow’s budget. These plans aim to roll-out fully autonomous cars on UK roads by the year 2021, as part of other significant technology investments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G networks and STEM education.


No doubt the UK economy has the tools to be a pioneer within the autonomous driving sector, which could be worth billions to the economy. The planned investment and loosening of current regulations have been welcomed by the industry.

However, anyone who has seen the five levels of vehicle autonomy will know that the Government’s claim is an ambitious one to say the least.

In truth we have only just begun to explore Level 3 automation in the mainstream, where the vehicle is in full control in some situations, monitors the road and traffic, and will inform the driver when they need to take control.

Trials of this sort of technology have taken place, however, for most people, even Level 3 autonomy is still something of a flight of fancy. Therefore, reaching autonomous Levels 4 (where the vehicle is in full control under certain conditions), and 5 (where the car can operate without a human occupant), within the next five years may be wishful thinking.

Indeed, a study in 2014 by the University of Leeds predicted that even Level 4 autonomy wouldn’t be fully achievable until 2025 and beyond.

Despite this the Government are adamant – self-driving cars with nobody behind the wheel will be with us by 2021, even though to achieve this would require significant changes to UK driving laws, a major mitigation of consumer fears that still exist around the technology, and clarity on just how these ‘fully’ autonomous vehicles will interact with the infrastructure around them.

Hammond’s faith in the technology will be put to the test tomorrow as he is reputedly getting a ride in a driverless car during a trip to the Midlands.

While we all envisage the day where we will be able to jump into a self-driving car, à la Minority Report, full Level 5 autonomy is still some way from being a reality, despite the Government’s pre-budget gusto.

The plans that will be outlined in tomorrow’s Budget will aim to bring autonomous driving within touching distance. However, whether or not the ambitious timeframe is achievable remains to be seen. Experts doubt it.

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