The government has announced that autonomous vehicles could be driving on the UK’s roads by the end of 2026.

Plans to legislate the use of driverless cars, which enable drivers to put vehicles into autonomous mode and not pay attention to the road, were unveiled in the King’s Speech in November.

“The legislation is going through parliament at the moment”, said Transport Secretary Mark Harper. “Probably by as early as 2026 people will start seeing some elements of these cars that have full self-driving capabilities being rolled out.”

Harper stressed that 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.”

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says that self-driving technology could help save 3,900 lives and prevent 60,000 serious accidents in the UK. In a SMMT report published in November, the trade body also said it has the potential to deliver a £66 billion boost to the UK economy by 2040.

However, concerns have been expressed about the safety of the technology, with the Transport Select Committee calling for new legislation to address safety and security issues.