Driverless cars could be navigating UK roads by the close of 2026.
The UK transport secretary Mark Harper revealed to the BBC his belief the vehicles will be widespread in only two years, and expressed anticipation that by the end of that same year, owners of such cars would have the freedom to travel without the need to actively monitor their journey.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Harper shared his firsthand experience witnessing the technology in action in California, emphasising the importance of instilling public “confidence” in a robust safety regime for the vehicles.
He said: “The legislation is going through parliament at the moment, so hopefully we'll get that through parliament by the end of 2024.”
Harper further outlined the expected timeline, stating: “Probably by as early as 2026, people will start seeing some elements of these cars that have full self-driving capabilities being rolled out.”
He also emphasised the introduction of the tech would occur “gradually”, with individuals having the choice to embrace it.
Highlighting the potential benefits, he said: “It has a huge number of potential uses: the obvious one is 88 per cent or so of road traffic collisions we see today are caused by driver error of some description.”
Harper also starred his optimism about the technology’s capacity to enhance road safety for drivers, passengers, and vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists.
The UK government last month unveiled plans for new legislation aimed at introducing automated driving on Britain’s roads, but critics voice concerns that premature implementation could lead to serious accidents.
While fully automated vehicles have logged millions of miles on public roads in the US and China, the UK has maintained a cautious approach. Some cars feature driver-assist technology, maintaining a vehicle’s position and lane, but a human driver must remain attentive.
Ford's Mustang Mach E is an exception, permitting UK drivers to momentarily relinquish control on specific motorway stretches, with the caveat that their eyes remain on the road.
In response to questions from BBC Radio 4 Today programme guest editor James May, the Ford BlueCruise director Charles Nolan cautioned that the vision of an autonomous car driving someone from the pub is not a current reality.
He highlighted the need for technological evolution, software refinement, regulatory development, and customer acceptance for such a future to materialise.