In its 2017 Industrial Strategy the Government said that it “wants to see fully self-driving cars, without a human operator, on UK roads by 2021”.
In keeping with the Government’s focus on the development and implementation of driverless technologies, the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission are conducting a joint 3 year review of driving laws.
The review will consider such matters as: who is ultimately “responsible” for a driverless vehicle; how civil and criminal responsibility should be allocated when a human and a machine share control; how driverless vehicles will play a part in public transport networks; and whether new crimes will need to be created in relation to the conduct of or interference with driverless cars.
Steps already taken towards a driverless future
The Government has already committed a great deal of resources to the development of driverless cars.
The draft Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill 2017-2019 was introduced to parliament on Wednesday 18 October 2017. The Bill addresses liability for accidents, public electronic charging points, and hydrogen refuelling points.
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has already highlighted existing practical barriers to the implementation of an automated vehicle network. At present local authorities are responsible for their roads, which poses challenges if automated vehicles are to rely on connectivity and universal systems across districts. A related concern is the level of broadband available; in some parts of the UK this is poor, or non existent.
Economic and other benefits of driverless cars
It is not difficult to imagine the large range of benefits that driverless cars could bring. Hailing a driverless car as and when needed (“Uber” style) might reduce the millions of parked cars which obstruct so many residential roads. Fewer parked cars would ease traffic congestion. Vehicles that communicate via a network could drive closer to one another, at greater speed, and could negate the need for traffic lights as a means of controlling traffic flows. The removal of human error would lead to greater road safety: the USA’s Eno Centre for Transportation has stated that if 90% cars were fully automated then road accidents would reduce by 80%.
In addition to these potential practical benefits, automated vehicles present an economic opportunity for the UK. The Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles produced a report last year which estimated that the global market for driverless cars and other vehicles could be £970 billion by 2035. The UK share of that market could be worth £30 – £57 billion, depending on early development and adoption.
Considering the economic benefits alone, it is clear why the Government is keen to push driverless technologies and invest resources in reviewing the laws that can help to make them an every day reality.