2015 could be the year of the driverless car and truck, UK transport minister Claire Perry said today as she announced a new study into their acceptability among other road users.
Ms Perry also predicted the advent of driverless buses, which could “transform rural public transport” by saving the major cost of drivers.
She said the new research, into driver and road user behaviour, would be important to “reassure the public that we are careful of the risk”.
The UK Department for Transport said it would test the social acceptability of driverless cars, such as among motorcyclists, cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.
Ministers have already announced that trials of autonomous vehicles, guided by computer-controlled sensors and cameras, will be permitted on roads from January, lasting up to three years.
Ms Perry said: “Today’s vehicles are so technically advanced that there is the real prospect that driverless cars could be on our roads in a relatively short amount of time.
“2015 could be the year of the driverless or highly automated car and truck in the UK.
“Driverless technology is the future. We can’t avoid it and I don’t want us to.”
She said driverless vehicles could make motoring safer and easier, cut congestion, and reduce emissions, fuel consumption and noise.
The minister said the technology would also make more frequent bus services feasible.
She said: “A major component of rural transport is the cost of the driver - and so a truly driverless bus could transform rural public transport in the future.”
However, the bus industry urged caution, warning that it was not yet on the cusp of introducing such technology.
Paul White, a spokesman for the Confederation of Passenger Transport in Scotland, said: “We are beginning to think through the issues but they will take time to resolve.”