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In the UK, significant self-driving vehicle trials have mostly been restricted to pedestrianised zones of Coventry, Greenwich, Bristol and Milton Keynes. The Government has made support of self-driving technology a key component of its industrial strategy and regards the fledgling market as an important sector in the country’s post-Brexit economy.

From next year, autonomous driving trials on Britain’s public roads are set to become more widespread. Volvo are planning on testing autonomous cars in London from early 2017, with the aim of having 100 such cars on the city’s streets by 2018. Known as Drive Me London, the scheme will use data gathered from Volvo’s semi-autonomous vehicles used by “real families” on a trial basis with the aiming of improving self-driving tech.

Uber aims to be firmly at the forefront of driverless technology, and two weeks ago rolled out a fleet of autonomous Volvo XC90s on the roads of the company’s hometown of San Francisco. Users who opted in to the program could request one of the cars just like any other ride, through the company’s smartphone app. Yesterday Uber said that it is ending the trial early, having clashed with both the state Attorney General and the city’s cycling community.

Over the course of the week-long trial, bystanders say they witnessed Uber’s cars committing a range of traffic violations, including running red lights and crossing into cycle lanes.

An Uber spokesperson subsequently told the Guardian that “engineers [were] continuing to work on the [cycle lane] problem” and attributed two red light incidents to human error, with the drivers now having been suspended.

Uber has also been in a dispute with state authorities over the permit required to operate these cars. 20 firms have applied for permits to test autonomous cars in the state of California, but Uber insisted it did not need to as every car comes with its own safety driver.

In common with most car manufacturers and industry experts, Uber regards self-driving cars as an essential component of future public and personal transportation. Although the technology is yet to be fully proven, autonomous travel has a widely-recognised potential to reduce emissions, increase safety and result in far fewer cars on our roads, freeing up our streets, car parks and driveways.

In the UK, operators are allowed to trial autonomous cars on almost any public road, so long as they are covered by insurance and comply with Department for Transport guidelines.

The Society for Motor Vehicle Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is hopeful that Brexit will enable the UK to further liberalise regulations restricting the use of autonomous tech, making the country a perfect proving ground for new technologies. According to the SMMT, the market for self-driving cars could bring as much as £51bn to the economy by 2030, provided the Government continues to supply funding and make adjustments to appropriate legislation.

The UK already has a more relaxed attitude to the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads than most European cities and is supporting the sector through the creation of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, and pledging £20m for feasibility studies, collaborative research and development competition.

“The global market for autonomous vehicles present huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms”, Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, said back in October. “And the research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles.”

Another potential boost for the UK sector comes in the form of an obscure legal loophole established in the 1960s. The UK Government never ratified the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which stipulates that the driver must be in the front seat of the car.

“This is an incredibly competitive area”, the SMMT’s Mike Hawes has said. “So many cities and countries want to be the test-bed for this next generation technology which could potentially transform the industry – the UK has to set out its stall. We have regulatory framework which makes it easier to do such things.”

Uber has no immediate plans to bring self-driving cars to the UK, but the four Government-backed trials have so-far proved popular with users and observers. In London, the Greenwich Automated Transport Environment (GATEway) project was set up to see how the public would respond to self-driving and has been operating a fleet of autonomous “pods” in the pedestrianised area surrounding the O2. Now several months into the trial, GATEway says that 78% of the Greenwich residents they surveyed are supportive of self-driving technology operating in the local area.

Away from the legislative and technological issues, some of the most difficult objections to a widespread self-driving rollout are more societal and philosophical. Mercedes announced in October that in the event of an imminent accident, its cars would be programmed to prioritise driver safety first, and that of bystanders second.

“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one,” Mercedes’ Christoph von Hugo said during the Paris Motor Show. “Save the one in the car. If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”

The boundaries of responsibility in the event of a collision or another accident are also unclear, as a recent Guardian editorial summarised: “Would it be the (non-)driver? The firm operating the vehicle? The software programmer who coded the car? The designer of the algorithm? It feels like a moral decision, and yet no one is setting up these rules.”

Autonomous cars also consume, store and share huge amounts of information, something the UK’s internet and communications rules are more relaxed about than most European countries, but presents problems for owners and businesses concerned with privacy laws and have considerable implications for insurance providers.

“Technology must not race ahead of the society in which it was created”, was the Guardian’s take on developments in San Francisco, but we will have to wait until next year to see how these concerns play out on Britain’s streets.

Ashley Coates is a member of Bright Blue and freelance journalist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.