The announcement, made in the Queen’s Speech last month, paves the way for autonomous cars and safety experts at Thatcham Research – the insurer-funded automotive research centre – have outlined a timetable for the key stages of assisted and automated driving:

2016 - today's car is already a world apart from where the car was even ten years ago.Many new cars are fitted with cameras and radars to monitor hazards ahead and automatically apply the brakes in case of a potential crash, or guide the vehicle back into lane if the driver is not paying attention.However, the driver remains in full control.

2018 – cars will become a lot smarter with even more advanced driver comfort features and with regulations now permitting hands-off driving on motorways.The driver retains responsibility and will be expected to take-over control in case of unanticipated situations or system failures.

For motorway driving, some cars will feature an 'auto pilot' function, automatically driving the vehicle and allowing hands to be taken off the wheel for around three minutes at a time.This might allow the driver to check the sat nav or to look at an important email, but after three minutes the system warns the driver that they need to re-engage with the car in some way – usually through putting their hands back on the steering wheel.If this doesn't happen, the system disconnects and the car will perform a minimum risk manoeuvre to bring itself to a safe stop. The driver remains in control.

2021 cars will be able to take complete control on defined segments of motorways, allowing the driver to disengage from driving completely and do other unrelated tasks, such as reading a book.With a full sensor pack including radars, cameras and laser scanners, the vehicle is able to build up a complete picture of the immediate road and traffic environment and to navigate safely within it. Such a vehicle would also likely be equipped with high-spec Advanced Driver Assistance Systems to aid drivers at the times when they are in control.

2025 – cars will be able to drive themselves, fully hands-free from door to door.This will include the whole range of typical driving environments in cities and urban environments as well as main arterial routes, and with the ability to negotiate traffic lights, junctions and roundabouts.Such vehicles will have full connectivity with each other and with the road infrastructure itself, which will allow them not just to navigate through their immediate environment but to plan ahead taking real time traffic conditions into account. At this stage, the driver will not even need to touch the controls during the course of the journey.

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, said he welcomed the Government’s plans.“This is a huge opportunity for Britain, with the potential to deliver significant road safety improvements, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and generate £51 billion for the economy by 2030,” he said.“The announcement will help the UK position itself as a global leader in innovation and building the cars of the future.”