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Government steps up plans for introduction of driverless cars

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Ministers say that the first driverless vehicles could be on Britain’s roads by the end of the decade. But changes to insurance rules and the Highway Code will be needed first.

Driver reading newspaper while driving

The government has stepped up its plans to see driverless cars introduced on to British roads within the next decade.

Ministers have revealed their plans for sweeping changes to insurance rules as well as proposals to alter the Highway Code and other motor regulations.

Driverless car pioneer

The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation that will run over the summer, asking drivers, businesses and the motor industry for their views on how driverless vehicles should be introduced and regulated.

This is part of the government’s plan for the UK to be a pioneer when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology.

In this year’s Queen’s Speech, the Conservatives set out plans to encourage investment in the development of driverless cars as well as to get the insurance industry to draw up proposals for how such vehicles will be covered.

The DfT has already said it wants to see vehicles that can park automatically and pilot themselves on motorways available by 2020.

Road safety improvements

Initial tests of such cars are scheduled to begin in 2017. Patrick McLoughlin, Transport Secretary prior to the recent cabinet reshuffle, said: “Driverless car technology will revolutionise the way we travel and deliver better journeys.

“Britain is leading the way but I want everyone to have the chance to have a say on how we embrace and use these technologies."

McLoughlin said that autonomous vehicles could have a significant role to play in improving road safety.

“Our roads are already some of the safest in the world and increasing advanced driver assist and driverless technologies have the potential to help cut the number of accidents further.”

Autonomous car technology

‘Driverless cars are a bad idea’

Surveys appear to show much resistance from the public to driverless vehicles.

Recent research from the Institute of Advanced Motorists – now known as IAM RoadSmart – found that almost two-thirds (65%) of car owners feel that the driver should remain in control of their vehicle at all times.

Meanwhile, 34% think driverless cars are a bad idea compared with 20% who think they are a good idea. Policymakers face significant challenges in introducing driverless technology onto UK roads.

Who’s to blame for accidents?

One of the biggest issues is how responsibility for any collisions will be apportioned, and to what extent owners of driverless cars will need insurance.

In May 2016, roads minister Andrew Jones said car insurance would have to change as driverless vehicles became more common.

Firstly, much of the data on which insurance is priced and sold will steadily become obsolete,” he said. Secondly, vast quantities of new kinds of data will become available, assessing not individual driver risk but vehicle behaviour and other factors. And thirdly, in the event of a serious collision when in driverless mode, it would be the vehicle at fault instead of the human driver.

Hands on steering wheel

Confidence dented

Another challenge the government faces is in getting motorists to trust driverless cars.

Public confidence in the technology has suffered as a result of successive crashes in the US involving Tesla vehicles which feature a self-driving “Autopilot” function.

In the most serious incident, an owner was killed in Florida when his Tesla crashed into a truck. The manufacturer says that drivers using Autopilot mode should nonetheless keep their hands on the wheel and be prepared to take control of their vehicle at all times.

Jaguar announces pilot scheme

Meanwhile, the UK carmaker Jaguar Land Rover has just announced its intention to create a fleet of more than 100 autonomous vehicles to research driverless technology.

Tests will be carried out over the next four years on public roads near the manufacturer’s base in Coventry.

Rivals Volvo and Ford have already announced plans for pilot schemes to take place in the UK in the near future.

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