A woman in a TeslaAlamy

Driverless cars could be on some UK roads by the end of 2026, the transport secretary has told the BBC.

Mark Harper also said he expected to see the owners of those vehicles being able to travel without having to watch where they’re going by the end of that year.

Last month the government announced plans for new legislation to bring automated driving to UK roads.

But, critics argue if the tech is not ready it could cause serious accidents.

Mr Harper told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he has personally seen the technology being used in California adding he wants people to have “confidence” in a proper safety regime.

“The legislation is going through parliament at the moment, so hopefully we’ll get that through parliament by the end of 2024,” he said

“Probably by as early as 2026 people will start seeing some elements of these cars that have full self-driving capabilities being rolled out.”

Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper walks at Downing Street

Reuters

Mr Harper insisted the technology will be rolled out “gradually” and would be up to individuals if they want to use it.

“It has a huge number of potential uses, the obvious one is 88% or so of road traffic collisions we see today are caused by driver error of some description,” he added.

“There is a real potential for this sort of technology to actually improve safety on the roads, not just for drivers, not just for passengers, but for other vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists – to really improve road safety, which is a real win for everybody.”

While fully automated vehicles have done millions of miles on public roads in the US and China, the UK has so far remained cautious about them.

Some models of car come with what is known as driver-assist technology which can maintain a vehicle’s position in line with surrounding traffic and keep them in the right lane. But, a human driver must have their hands on the wheel and be looking at the road at all times.

Only Ford’s Mustang Mach E can allow UK drivers to take their hands off the wheel on certain stretches of motorway in England, Wales, and Scotland, and the car maker says drivers must keep their eyes on the road.

Asked by BBC Radio 4 Today programme guest editor James May if an autonomous car driving him from the pub was a fantasy, Ford BlueCruise director Charles Nolan said the technology was “certainly not there now”.

“I think there is a way to go,” he said.

“In my view the technology would need to evolve, the software would need to evolve, and the regulation would need to evolve.”

“And then the final part of it is customer acceptance, and ability to pay would need to evolve.”

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