Following a series of industry workshops and an open call for evidence, the Self-Driving All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has published a well-informed policy paper on the economic, environmental and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles (SDVs).
In the foreword, chairman Ben Everitt MP explains that Starship delivery robots have become commonplace in the streets of his constituency, Milton Keynes, with the City Council recently securing £2m in Government funding for a state-of-the-art self-driving shuttle service.
“There has never been a more important time to be championing this exciting and growing industry,” he said. “This is why the APPG for Self-Driving Vehicles launched a consultation on the economic, environmental, and safety benefits. Through the consultation we collected evidence from academics, insurance experts, and legal voices working in the sector.
“What it has highlighted in particular for me is that self-driving vehicles represent a huge investment opportunity for the UK. If the Government introduces self-driving vehicle legislation, investor confidence in British businesses would be strengthened.
“Beyond the benefits to our economy, SDVs could also make our roads safer, reconnect people and communities who find it hard to travel currently, and help us to reach Net Zero.”
The paper went on to make eight key recommendations and, pleasingly, the top one was met within days of it being published – a call for legislation to legalise the commercial deployment of SDVs in the UK in this year’s King’s Speech. Tick!
Further recommendations included:
- Alternative legislative pathways for advanced driverless trials.
- A sector-specific approach to AI regulation.
- R&D into smart technology to optimise SDV road use for reduced emissions and increased safety.
- Dialogue to ensure the benefits are understood and harnessed by the rail, maritime and aviation sectors.
- Clarity for insurers and developers to create robust safety protocols and liability frameworks.
- Balanced and proportionate safety controls for deployment.
- The Government working with industry to champion self-driving and boost public awareness.
On the economic impact, the paper said: “The UK has a unique opportunity for leadership in an industry that could be worth £750 billion globally by 2035. The UK is already home to several innovative SDV companies that are trialling their vehicles on UK roads, and the Government’s analysis of the sector showed that it could potentially generate £42 billion and 38,000 jobs for the UK economy by 2035. Research by the SMMT suggest the CAM sector as a whole could be worth £66 billion by 2040. But the UK risks falling behind other countries and losing this potential crown jewel sector by moving too slowly to implement the legislative proposals made by the Law Commission in 2022.
“During the consultation, contributors pointed out that many studies have shown that there is an opportunity to incorporate self-driving technology into mass transit systems, which has the potential to deliver benefits to the public more cheaply than upgrading the current system. Industry called for more to be done to bring local authorities on board and think about potential applications for self-driving technology for local transport services.”
On the environmental impact, it said: “Self-driving vehicles can help to eliminate some of the most emissions-intensive driving-related behaviours. According to the Climate Change Committee, surface transport accounts for 22% of UK greenhouse gas emissions – the largest individual share of any sector. There was a consensus from contributors that SDVs have an important role to play in the transition to Net Zero.
“Contributors pointed out that more was needed to improve the connectivity of transport infrastructure in order to achieve the full benefits of SDVs on UK roads. A recent EU study found that connected vehicles on city roads could reduce emissions by 18% and a UK study reported that traffic light improvement could also reduce emissions by 17%.”
Finally, on the safety impact, it said: “The four leading causes of transport accidents are: driver error; reckless behaviour; disobeying traffic laws; and driver impairment. Self-driving vehicles promise to be safer than human drivers, reducing the number of preventable tragedies on UK roads. This factor was also considered in the Transport Select Committee’s recent report, with several witnesses stressing the potential safety benefits presented by SDVs, and highlighting the Government’s safety ambition for this technology.
“Contributors highlighted research from the insurance industry that SDVs could save the NHS £2.3 billion annually in medical and ambulance costs by eliminating the 85% of accidents where human error is a contributory factor. Shared SDV services might also contribute to lowering the cost of patient transport services and reducing the cost impact of non-attendance at appointments.”
The paper concluded with some brief thoughts on public perception, including: “Earlier this year, the Department for Transport conducted a survey into the public perceptions. Overall, the survey found that participants were overwhelmingly positive towards the development of SDVs, particularly as a form of shared transport, and noted benefits such as safety gains.”
Supported by AXA, Burges Salmon, Wayve and WSP, the full policy paper is available on the Self-Driving APPG website.