The minister of state for the future of transport has opened the ‘Autonomous Village’, a self-driving vehicle test facility at Millbrook-Culham, Oxfordshire.

The site comes with 70km of test tracks, a private mobile network and a simulator suite. This will be part of a network of self-driving vehicle test facilities across the country, coordinated by UK automated vehicle company Zenzic. The new ground will allow developers to challenge systems and collect data, to help monitor software, sensors, 5G telecommunications and cyber security systems.

In an attempt to ensure self-driving vehicle safety, the government is also developing an assurance system and a new autonomous vehicle safety regime to be known as CAV PASS.

Speaking at the Cenex-Low Carbon Vehicle conference in Bedford, future of transport minister George Freeman said: “Self-driving vehicles can offer significant rewards for the UK’s economy, road safety and accessibility. We are determined to lead in the testing and development of safe autonomous transport.

“This is new terrain, and with our national expertise the UK is well-placed to blaze the trail globally by developing a global benchmark for assuring the safety and security of this exciting technology.”

The new safety assurance system will first focus on enabling the advanced trialling of self-driving vehicles, and aims to eventually help assure the safety and security of these vehicles for their mainstream sale and use. Such advanced trials may include those without a human operator in the loop at all times, or the assessment of novel vehicle types such as pods and shuttles.

The work builds on the code of practice for automated vehicle trials first launched by the UK in 2015 and updated this year.

American manufacturer Ford has promised a fully autonomous vehicle in commercial operation by 2021.

Built through Ford Smart Mobility, the vehicles will operate without a steering wheel and pedals within geo-fenced areas as part of a ride sharing or ride hailing experience.