The Government has launched a £20m competitive fund for collaborative research and development into driverless vehicles as well as a code of practice for testing.
Ministers want bidders to put forward proposals in areas including ‘safety, reliability, how vehicles can communicate with each other and the environment around them and how driverless vehicles can help give an ageing population greater independence’.
All bids must be able to supply match funding for the projects, with bidding expected to come from the motor industry.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘To boost productivity Britain will need to capitalise on new technologies like driverless vehicles, securing high skilled jobs for those who want to work hard and get on, and contributing to a more prosperous future for the whole of the country.
‘Our world beating automotive industry, strengths in innovation and light touch regulatory approach to testing driverless technology combine to make the UK market competitive and an attractive destination for investors.’
Following a review of regulations earlier this year, the Department for Transport concluded: ‘Real-world testing of automated technologies is possible in the UK today, providing a test driver is present and takes responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle; and that the vehicle can be used compatibly with road traffic law.’
However to support the testing of driverless car projects ministers have also released a code of practice intended to help manufacturers and testing partners by providing clear guidelines and recommendations to maintain safety.
The code of practice is non-statutory so while failure to follow the code may be relevant to liability in legal proceedings, compliance does not guarantee immunity either.
The Department for Transport and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has also established a new joint policy unit, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (C-CAV), to co-ordinate government policy on driverless cars and connected technology.
Among the planned C-CAV schemes are tests of new roadside communication technology to improve traffic flow and safety through ‘connected corridors’.
The Government estimates the intelligent mobility market could be worth £900bn by 2025.
Professor Nick Reed, technical lead of the Greenwich Automated Transport Environment (GATEWay) project and academy director at TRL, said: 'Since the press launch of the GATEway project in February, the TRL-led consortium has been working hard to lay the necessary foundations for the planned autonomous vehicle trials.
'We want to make sure that the trials are optimally developed and delivered, so the first public vehicle trials won’t take place until 2016. But now that the new code of practice has given the green light for testing on UK roads, it won’t be long before you see one of our self-driving vehicles out in the public again.'