September 26, 2023
The United Kingdom urgently needs law changes to deal with self-driving vehicles (SDVs).
That’s the verdict of Members of Parliament (MPs) who sit on the government’s cross-party Transport Committee and have compiled a report to look into the issue.
The report includes several recommendations on how regulations should be updated to address concerns about safety and legal liability, as well as infrastructure that will be needed to accommodate SDVs’ introduction.
Transport Committee Chair Iain Stewart, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes South in Buckinghamshire, explained: “Self-driving vehicles are a great British success story in the making and we have a competitive advantage over many other countries.
“But all that hard work could be at risk if the government doesn’t follow through and bring forward a Transport Bill in the next Parliamentary session, before the next general election.”
The U.K.’s next general election is scheduled to be held no later than January 2025.
The committee believes it is time to act after hearing from several stakeholders who said the U.K.’s self-driving sector is “crying out” for regulation.
The report claimed that current laws are “archaic and limiting.”
“Widespread take-up of SDVs faces various hurdles, including public confidence in their safety, security and their potential to have knock-on impacts on other road users,” Stewart said. “If the government is going to meet its ambitions for self-driving vehicle deployment these issues need to be addressed.”
Among the SDVs referenced in the report that would require regulation are trucks, buses, taxis and private cars.
However, while the need for new laws is urgent, the phasing in of the vehicles themselves should be more measured. “We believe the government should take a cautious, gradual approach, with SDV technologies only initially introduced in well-defined contexts, or else we risk unintended consequences,” added Stewart.
Specific areas that need to be covered by updated regulations include vehicle approvals, accident liability, cybersecurity and the use of personal data, and there was also a call for a more challenging benchmark for safety than currently exists.
Intriguingly, there was also recognition that the UK driving test may have to be altered, due to SDVs causing humans to become “less skilled over time.” And it was suggested that more thought needs to be applied to infrastructure than is currently the case, with signage, nationwide connectivity and digital updates on road networks all areas for improvement.
Britain’s concerns about the rise of self-driving cars are being mirrored elsewhere in the world, with other countries and regions taking a proactive role in establishing rules and regulations to facilitate their safe, swift introduction.
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