Dutch Cabinet Minister Schultz wants her country to be ready for self-driving cars (Photo: Dutch government)

The Netherlands will introduce legislation in early 2015 to make autonomous driving on public roads possible in the near  to medium term. The government will send a proposal to parliament outlining the legislative changes required to open the country's traffic to driverless cars.

The Netherlands, with its congested roadway system and almost 17 million people living on a mere 41,500 square kilometers of land, provides a real example of what traffic could look like in the not too distant future, when more and more people will live in urban areas.

"The era of the self-driving car has arrived," Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Netherlands cabinet minister for infrastructure and environment, said in a press statement. "In the coming 20 years, developments in this area will change the relationship between driver and vehicle more than in the past 100 years."

Schultz predicted that self-driving cars will have a positive impact on the flow of traffic on the Dutch road network. The cars will also improve automotive safety and they will be more fuel-efficient than conventional vehicles, she said.

With European countries closely aligned, Schultz acknowledged that any changes to a country's mobility strategy needed to be embedded in an international framework. "I want us to not just be ready , but to take a leading international role in this innovative development," Schultz said. Minister Schultz said in a letter to parliament that she hopes the rotating Dutch chairmanship of the European Union in 2016 "offers possibilities to take the lead in cooperation on a European level."

The UK is also looking at traffic law changes to facilitate driverless driving, according to a report in London's Daily Mail newspaper. In the US, several states already allow tests of the  vehicles on public roads.

In the Netherlands, Schultz wants to announce later this year where and under what conditions, driverless cars can be tested.

One consortium has already applied for permission to test connected autonomous-vehicle technology on Dutch roads. A consortium led by testing agency TNO would like to conduct trials of so-called platooning technology, which lets a train of trucks be guided to a destination by a lead truck in front. The consortium includes truck maker DAF, lobbying group Transport and Logistics Netherlands, and the Port Authority of Rotterdam.

-By Arjen Bongard