The UK government announced yesterday that autonomous vehicles will be allowed on UK roads five months from now.

Fully driverless cars are an exciting glimpse of the future with substantial potential to improve road safety – but the UK’s car fleet has a long way to go before it makes the most of existing autonomous technology already tested, proven and readily available, according to UK insurers’ research centre, Thatcham Research.

“Today’s announcement that the Government will allow driverless cars on UK roads in just five months’ time sets an ambitious target,” said Peter Shaw, chief executive of Thatcham Research. “We fully support the automation of safety features such as braking/steering where the vehicle intervenes to avoid a crash – but we must recognize that fully driverless cars require a great deal more comprehensive testing and development before they can be made commercially available in the UK – or anywhere in the world.”

Thatcham explained it has been researching and testing Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) systems on behalf of insurers for the last 3 years and has carried out hundreds of tests on a wide range of new vehicles.

“We therefore support the controlled testing that the government is encouraging and are monitoring the results with great interest,” added Shaw. “In the meantime we are calling on the UK Government to materially support proposed financial incentives designed to encourage more car makers to fit existing AEB technology as standard, and save more than 1,200 lives over the next ten years alone. The evidence from our testing is undeniable, and combined with a growing body of real world research and evidence, we firmly believe that AEB and other ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist Systems) have a critical role to play in safer roads for the future. Fully driverless cars may take a while longer to gain widespread acceptance.”

Research from Volvo indicates that under 20 mph accidents account for 75 percent of all crashes – the vast majority of these could be avoided if all vehicles had AEB.

Currently around 20 percent of new cars in the UK have an AEB system available. With some form of incentive, Thatcham believes100 percent of the UK new car fleet could be fitted with AEB by 2025 which could reduce over 17,000 deaths and serious injuries on the UK’s roads in a decade from 2015.