The lowdown on driverless cars in the UK

Driverless cars may sound positively futuristic but they’re expected to start gracing Britain’s roads by the end of 2019.

It’s happening much quicker than originally planned as the government has decided to scrap the requirement for a dedicated safety driver. This is a move that will put Britain at the forefront of driverless technology. So far, America is the only other country where trials have taken place and even those have been limited.

shutterstock_671755273The government has said it expects fully driverless vehicles to be in operation on British roads by 2021 and it’s estimated that the technology will be worth £52 billion to Britain in the next 15 years.

As well as standard driverless cars hitting the UK’s roads in the very near future, the Government has also announced plans for the first driverless transport services by 2021. This will include a driverless bus service and self-driving taxis in four London boroughs.

Research does however show that three quarters of the public fear autonomous cars on UK roads. With 76% of us worrying about the lack of control and 60% afraid that self-driving vehicles could be hacked by criminals, is the British public really ready for driverless cars?

From how they work and what their benefits are to personal leasing options, below we answer some common questions about driverless cars.

How do they work?

Self-driving vehicles don’t require humans to take control to safely operate them. Also known as autonomous cars, they combine sensors and software to control, navigate and drive the vehicle.

The cars can share data with each other (such as warnings about obstacles on the road), to improve how vehicles perform under different conditions.

The likes of Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Google and Audi are among the companies with systems ready to deploy and they can include some or all of the following features:

  • Radar sensors dotted around the car to monitor the position of other nearby vehicles
  • Video cameras to detect traffic lights, read road signs and keep track of other vehicles while also looking out for pedestrians and other hazards
  • Lidar sensors to help detect the edges of roads and identify lane markings by bouncing pulses of light off the car’s surroundings
  • Ultrasonic sensors in the wheels can detect the position of kerbs and other vehicles when parking
  • A central computer which can analyse all of the data from the various sensors to manipulate steering, acceleration and braking

If you’re still not convinced about buying a car with autonomous features, personal car leasing may be a great alternative for you rather than committing to buy or loan a brand new car.

Can anyone operate a driverless car?

Because you need to be ready to take control of the vehicle at short notice, anyone operating a driverless car will still be required to hold a valid driver’s licence. Rules such as drink-driving laws will also still apply to driverless cars.

Why go driverless?shutterstock_1019141671 (1)

While it may seem like nothing more than another way for us to become increasingly lazy, driverless cars may actually provide a lot of benefits.

  • Research suggests they could slash emissions by half
  • They can help to improve traffic flow because they can travel closer together on narrow streets
  • Theoretically, machines are much better at following rules than humans. Speed limits, no parking zones and signs telling us not to overtake or change lanes are often ignored by motorists whereas computers are designed to follow rules
  • Because they’re better at following rules and human error is eliminated, they can help to reduce the number of accidents on the road

Are there any downsides?

As with any technology, self-driving cars come with their challenges. In March 2018, a pedestrian was killed while crossing the road when an Uber self-driving car failed to stop. The incident lead to Uber suspending its self-driving car development programme (

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the victim had been wearing dark clothing and had stepped out into the road without looking. The car had only flagged the need for emergency braking 1.3 second before impact and it didn’t actually apply the brakes itself.

Safety is likely to be the biggest concern for most road users which is why anyone using these vehicles needs to be as alert as they would be if they were driving a normal vehicle.

Everything you need to know about driverless vehicles and how they might affect you can be found by visiting the RAC website – If you would like any information about personal leasing a driverless or standard car, we’re always happy to help.