Driverless cars will be tested on Britain’s motorways as soon as next year, George Osborne will announce in next week’s budget, as he claims that Britain can “lead the world in new technologies and infrastructure”.
The chancellor will deliver his budget on Wednesday and is expected to warn that the deteriorating global outlook will make it harder to reach his target of delivering a surplus on the public finances by the end of the parliament in 2020.
But Osborne is still keen to demonstrate that he has an appetite for measures which could boost growth and kickstart the productivity of Britain’s economy.
He said: “At a time of great uncertainty in the global economy, Britain must take bold decisions now to ensure it leads the world when it comes to new technologies and infrastructure. That’s what my budget next week will seek to do.
“Driverless cars could represent the most fundamental change to transport since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Naturally, we need to ensure safety, and that’s what the trials we are introducing will test.”
The driverless car trials will be the latest project to be funded by the government’s £100m Intelligent Mobility Fund, a pot of money set up to back innovations in transport technology.
The Treasury conceded that some lanes might need to be closed in order to allow the trials to take place.
The transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, suggested that the new technologies being tested in the trials could “benefit our society and the wider economy by opening up new routes for global investment”.
Work is already being carried out to prepare for trials on roads in Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes and Greenwich; and the government is also backing plans for a “connected corridor” on the key freight route from London to Dover, which would allow vehicles travelling along it to tap into communications networks.
The Japanese carmaker Nissan plans to make its first mass-market driverless car in the UK at its plant in Sunderland, while Jaguar Land Rover plans to test its autonomous and connected vehicle technologies on the roads of the West Midlands by the end of the year.
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