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Self-driving vehicles - Recommendations to the Government

07 November 2023

The House of Commons Transport Committee Report, with their recommendations on Self-Driving vehicles was published on 15th September 2023. However, given the Government's vision as the UK being the leader in innovation and digital information including Self-Driving vehicles, the report is not an easy read.   

In 2022, the Government outlined their plans for self -driving vehicles. They promised early deployment in the UK by 2025, that they are "the future of road travel," and that that a comprehensive regulatory, legislative and safety framework would be rolled out. For the UK, there is a balance between remaining at the forefront of innovations and keeping the wider public on board. The Report discusses the following,

  • Benefits –   Improving transport connectivity has significant safety and productivity benefits.  However, technology has failed to meet any of the promoter's predictions.  The suggestions that the self -driving vehicles can go anywhere at any time is unlikely to happen soon.  They can however become a reality in more circumscribed forms.  The Government needs to take a cautious gradual approach with the technology introduced in well- defined and appropriate contexts, and that this should meet the UK transport goals.  Without a careful and thoughtful plan, self -driving vehicles could worsen congestion and exacerbate inequalities in transport access.
  • Safety- The Government's proposition that self-driving vehicles must be as safe as competent and careful drivers is  vague. This needs to be clearer and defined.  In addition, there needs to be a strategy for the future of human driving in a world of self-driving vehicles.   Drivers will be called to retake control of vehicles in challenging circumstances and with little notice. Driving tests will need to be adapted accordingly. This must not impact other road users including pedestrians.
  • Risks – Cybersecurity is one of the biggest risks, and a safety led culture and a wide access to data must be a priority. Legal liability also becomes more complex as it is shared between owner and operator which can be a headache for the insurance industry.  The Government has accepted that more consideration needs to be applied to this area.
  • Infrastructure- Self driving vehicles will need well maintained roads and signage, nationwide connectivity and digital information regarding the road network.   However, in contrast, the current cost cutting and lack of resources of our local authorities has led to many of our roads deteriorating.  There is a need to seriously upgrade the infrastructure to make them ready for self-driving vehicles.

There is clearly a lot more work to be done.  Questions such as "how safe, is safe enough?" has been raised. Widespread data access is crucial. There must be a unified approach by vehicle manufacturers, government and insurers. The issues of legal liability as we move through the different stages of automation must be properly addressed. The Government needs to embrace the technology cautiously, pass comprehensive legislation in the next parliamentary session and put in place the robust framework that it promised. Failing to do so will cause significant and lasting damage to the UK's reputation as a leader in innovation and digital information.

The King's Speech to introduce a new safety framework for self- driving vehicles including new legal and safety thresholds, clarity on accountability and new process for accident investigations  as well as clamping down on misleading marketing to the term "self -driving" is a welcome step in the right direction.   

For more information contact Petty Abrams, Senior Associate.

Author: Petty Abrams.

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