Shropshire Star

New self-driving cars legislation touted to make roads safer and boost growth

The Bill aims to ensure a high standard of safety for these cars.

Finger ready to press start button on autonomous drive vehicle (Olivier Le Moal/Getty Images)

A new legal framework for self-driving cars provides an “unprecedented opportunity” to improve safety and connectivity on UK roads, as well as boost the economy, Parliament heard.

The Automated Vehicles Bill, which is set to introduce regulation for self-driving road vehicles, was welcomed by peers in Westminster during its second reading.

The Bill aims to ensure a high standard of safety for these cars, the threshold being that they must meet an equivalent level to that of a careful and competent human driver.

It also provides for the carmakers to take legal responsibility for how the cars behave, although distinguishes between self-driving cars that complete an entire journey automatically and those that complete part of a journey, requiring the option of handing back control to a human driver in certain contexts.

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Transport minister Lord Davies (Aaron Chown/PA)

Transport minister Lord Davies of Gower said: “Self-driving vehicles offer an unprecedented opportunity to improve the safety and connectivity of our road network.

“Unencumbered by fatigue, distraction, frustration or intoxication, and built from the ground up to obey the rules of the road, self-driving vehicles could one day far exceed the standards of even the safest human drivers.

“With 88% of road incidents currently involving human error, the potential for these technologies to reduce injury and save lives is plain to see.

“Self-driving vehicles could also improve connectivity across the country, opening up new options for travel and connecting people to amenities, jobs and education.

“Indeed, it is those currently at greatest risk of isolation — the elderly, those with disabilities and our rural communities — who could see the greatest benefit from some of these new technologies.”

Turning to the economic opportunity, he said: “The international self-driving market has vast growth potential.

“Playing to our strengths in research and innovation, and with a robust regulatory system in place, the UK could capture as much as £42 billion of that market by 2035.”

Peers raised questions around data protection and cybersecurity, job losses and job opportunities, as well as transition times for part-automated cars to transfer control to a human driver.

There were also questions as to how the Bill provides for a period of transition whereby the roads contain a mix of completely self-driving cars, human-driven cars, and self-driving cars with human driver takeover built in.

Labour frontbencher Lord Tunnicliffe welcomed regulation but argued that the Bill is “not enough to give the public or industry confidence in the emerging technology”.

He said: “It’s bare-bones regulations allow driverless cars on our roads, set minimum standards and make manufacturers responsible, but it fails properly to prepare for the transition period when some vehicles will be automated and others not.

“The Government needs to prepare for the transition with a plan to monitor and prepare for the rollout, to give industry the certainty that it needs to invest and the public the confidence that they will be safe on our roads.

“I am also concerned that the Bill offers no protection for the jobs that could be lost during the transition, which is why these Benches will call on the Government to engage with trade unions and workers to make sure that automation creates jobs rather than loses them.”

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