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Norfolk needs to plan now so roads ready for rise of driverless cars, warn officers

PUBLISHED: 08:47 13 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:10 13 March 2019

A Google self-driving car goes on a test drive near the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Pic: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

A Google self-driving car goes on a test drive near the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Pic: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

The predicted rise of driverless cars in the future means planning must be done now to make sure Norfolk’s roads are suitable for the robot revolution, councillors will be told.

The interior of a driverless car at the headquarters of motor industry research organisation MIRA. Pic: Rui Vieira/PA WireThe interior of a driverless car at the headquarters of motor industry research organisation MIRA. Pic: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

The motor industry is pumping billions each year into developing autonomous vehicles, although Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s 2012 claim the general public would be able to use such cars within five years did not come to pass.

However, the Department for Transport says trials of self-driving cars on public roads without a safety drivers could happen by the end of this year, with people able to buy and use the vehicles on the nation’s streets by 2021.

The vehicles work by combining a variety of sensors to understand their surroundings, with their control systems interpreting the information they get to identify a suitable and safe route.

And officers at Norfolk County Council want to ensure that councillors are aware of the implications the advent of the autonomous vehicles could have on the county’s roads network.

They have produced a report into the issue, which will come before members of the council’s digital innovation and efficiency committee today (Wednesday).

In that report, Kurt Frary, the council’s infrastructure services manager and David Cumming, the authority’s interim team leader transport, highlight the potential benefits of driverless cars.

They said: “Autonomous vehicles have the potential to increase opportunities for people to connect, particularly those unable to use traditional vehicles.

“They can also potentially lead to other benefits, such as a reduction in casualties or an increase in the efficiency of the road network.”

However, they said the authority needed to consider the implications of a wide roll out of such vehicles.

That includes whether the council’s planning and design of roads meets the safety requirements for future fully or semi-autonomous cars.

Councillors will also be asked to consider whether “traffic management interventions” would be needed to help the vehicles navigate the network.

And officers also say councillors need to think about whether the driverless cars would lead to extra vehicle movements on the county’s roads.

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