This morning’s Observer column:
“Britain moves closer to a self-driving revolution,” said a perky message from the Department for Transport that popped into my inbox on Wednesday morning. The purpose of the message was to let us know that the government is changing the Highway Code to “ensure the first self-driving vehicles are introduced safely on UK roads” and to “clarify drivers’ responsibilities in self-driving vehicles, including when a driver must be ready to take back control”.
The changes will specify that while travelling in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to resume control in a timely way if they are prompted to, such as when they approach motorway exits. They also signal a puzzling change to current regulations, allowing drivers “to view content that is not related to driving on built-in display screens while the self-driving vehicle is in control”. So you could watch Gardeners’ World on iPlayer, but not YouTube videos of F1 races? Reassuringly, though, it will still be illegal to use mobile phones in self-driving mode, “given the greater risk they pose in distracting drivers as shown in research”.
As usual, the announcement comes coated in three layers of prime political cant. This “exciting technology” is “developing at pace right here in Great Britain” (but apparently not in Northern Ireland; could it be that the DUP doesn’t approve of such advanced technology?). The government is “ensuring we have strong foundations in place for drivers when the technology takes to our roads”, which will be great once it has attended to the crumbling physical foundations of the roads in my neighbourhood. And of course it’s all happening “while boosting economic growth across the nation and securing Britain’s place as a global science superpower”…