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Driverless cars ‘will be limited to avoid them making life and death decisions’

Driverless cars will be restricted because governments are reluctant to allow them to make "life and death" decisions, an automotive executive has said.

Technological developments could result in vehicles "full of passengers with no driver" in around five years but legislation will limit their use, according to Dr Ian Robertson, a member of the board of management at BMW AG.

He predicted there will be "a phased approach" to the use of driverless cars, with different rules for motorways and local roads.

Speaking at a conference in central London organised by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), he said: "The autonomous vehicle will be capable of making decisions which would – in the event of an accident – result in a set of scenarios where the decision being made could result in life and death.

"I don’t think we will reach the stage where legislation allows that in the foreseeable future. I think we will restrict it."

During the connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) summit, Business Secretary Greg Clark announced plans for the first phase of the Government’s £100 million investment in testing infrastructure to development the technology.

He outlined the creation of a "cluster of excellence" along the M40 corridor, using existing testing centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford, Milton Keynes and London.

Mr Clark said: "By 2035 the global market for connected and autonomous vehicle technologies is predicted to be worth £63 billion.

"Our investment and collaboration with industry to build on our strengths and create a cluster of excellence will ensure we are at the forefront of its development and perfectly positioned to lead and capitalise on this market."

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: "We want the UK to be the destination of choice for the development and testing of this new generation of vehicles."

Self-driving cars were tested by a major manufacturer on public roads in the UK for the first time this month.

Nissan clocked up more than 300 miles using prototypes of its Leaf model with enhanced autonomous driver technology on busy routes in east London, reaching speeds of 50mph.

The Japanese manufacturer is aiming to make fully autonomous vehicles widely available by 2020.

Small-scale tests of driverless car technology have also been conducted in locations such as Milton Keynes, Greenwich and Bristol.

An SMMT survey of 3,641 UK adults found that nearly six out of 10 (57%) believe CAVs will improve their quality of life.

Automatic braking and parking, and the ability of cars to self-diagnose faults, were cited by respondents as features most likely to reduce stress.

Some 88% said CAVs would also improve their social life by helping them go out more regularly.