Driverless cars will soon be rolling across the UK's public roadways, thanks to a government decision to permit tests by the end of 2013, reports BBC News. A report from the country’s Department of Transport gives a rundown of the plans, which it believes will lower congestion and improve safety — part of a £50 billion investment aimed at upgrading the country’s roads.

The UK is joining a handful of US states that are already testing driverless cars, including California (where they are street legal), Florida, and Nevada, with Michigan not far behind. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is pushing for other states to follow suit. Over the past year, automakers including Nissan, Audi, and Toyota have all been investing heavily in autonomous cars, as has Google, which expects to release its technology commercially within the next three to five years.

Widespread adoption is still 25 years off

For now, driverless cars will only be tested in a semi-autonomous mode that still lets the driver jump in and take control if something goes wrong. The technology is currently being tested on private roads by Oxford University and Nissan, and relies on lasers and cameras to steer the car in the right direction, eventually learning enough about the driver's habits to take control. Onboard radios could help further by allowing cars to communicate with one another, exemplified by the so-called "platooning" system demonstrated last year in Spain. The Ministry of Transport acknowledges that widespread adoption of fully autonomous vehicles is still 25 years off, but it believes that the UK has a "fantastic opportunity to be at the forefront" of the new technology.