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Self-driving cars get green light for UK road tests this year

The government has given the green light to cars that drive themselves, which could hit British streets before the end of the year.

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Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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The government has given the green light to cars that drive themselves hitting British streets before the end of the year.

The Department of Transport is allowing the tests of autonomous automobiles on public roads in the UK. The self-driving cars will be rolled out -- so to speak -- with back-up drivers in each car ready to take the wheel if necessary.

Oxford University and Nissan are testing cars that stay in their lane and maintain a set speed and distance from other cars thanks to a system of cameras and lasers, with radios potentially allowing cars to talk to each other. Tests of an adapted, self-driving Nissan Leaf have been carried out on private land, but will now head out onto quiet rural and suburban highways and byways.

The government believes driverless vehicles could drive down the amount of traffic and improve road safety.

Self-motivated motors have been tested in the US in Nevada and Florida. And Google's been pootling round California in driverless Toyota Prius cars for years, like the one pictured above. There's no word yet on whether Google will be among the companies testing cars equipped with cameras, self-driving systems -- and, presumably, a note in the window reading "tax disc in the post".

Are self-driving cars the way forward, or can nothing replace a human in the driving seat? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or crash into our Facebook wall.