Autonomous cars enabling drivers not to concentrate on the road will be used in the UK from 2026, according to Transport Secretary Mark Harper.
The Cabinet minister said the technology has “a huge number of potential uses” including boosting road safety and making it easier for disabled people to travel independently.
The Automated Vehicles Bill to create a set of laws for using autonomous vehicles was introduced into Parliament last month.
Mr Harper told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The legislation is going through Parliament at the moment so hopefully we’ll get that through Parliament by the end of 2024.
“Probably by as early as 2026, people will start seeing some elements of these cars that have full self-driving capabilities being rolled out.
“We already know the technology works. You can see the technology being rolled out with a safety driver in place.
“I’ve seen the technology being used in California for example, without a safety driver, so in full, autonomous mode.
“This technology exists, it works and what we’re doing is putting in place the proper legislation so that people can have full confidence in the safety of this technology, which I think is one of the important things we’ve got to do.”
Asked if people will be able to travel in self-driving vehicles “with your hands off the wheel, doing your emails” in 2026, Mr Harper replied: “Yes, and I think that’s when companies are expecting – in 2026, during that year – that we’ll start seeing this technology rolled out.”
Responding to a question by former Top Gear presenter James May – who was Today’s guest editor – about why the Government is supporting the development of autonomous driving, Mr Harper claimed there are “a few” reasons.
He said: “I think it will actually improve road safety.
“We already have a very good road safety record in Britain but there are still several thousand people a year killed on our roads.
“That could be improved.
“It’s a big economic opportunity for Britain to get what will be a big global share of market.
“The final thing is, there are a lot of people who currently don’t have the opportunity to get the freedom that many of us drivers take for granted.
“For example, there are people who have disabilities, people with learning disabilities, who don’t have the same freedom that driving brings the rest of us.
“This potentially opens up a whole new world for personal freedom, getting to work, having the ability to not have to rely on other people.”