In very welcome news, “self-driving vehicles” received a prominent mention in the King’s Speech at the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday 7 November 2023.
This had been widely expected, but then it had been in the Queen’s Speech of 2022, when it surprisingly failed to materialise.
On Sunday, The Guardian noted that “tech bosses hope driverless car laws will clear the road for UK software industry”, while The Times went over the top at just past midnight, declaring “Driverless buses and delivery vehicles to get green light”.
“My Lords and members of the House of Commons, it is mindful of the legacy of service and devotion to this country set by My beloved Mother, The late Queen, that I deliver this, the first King’s Speech in over 70 years,” King Charles began.
For our sector, the much anticipated key line came halfway through: “My Ministers will introduce new legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development of emerging industries, such as self-driving vehicles, introduce new competition rules for digital markets, and encourage innovation in technologies such as machine learning.”
Following the Speech, The Independent was quick to confirm a “Bill to enable self-driving cars to be used on Britain’s roads… The Government says its Automated Vehicles Bill will provide the sector with the certainty and confidence it needs to develop the technology.”
Self-driving industry reaction
So there we have it, the UK has taken an historic step towards legal self-driving. Early industry reaction included…
AXA’s Tara Foley: “AXA welcomes the Government’s commitment to support this exciting technological advance that offers multiple benefits for the UK economy, road safety and green jobs.
“As a large motor insurer, we have long been calling for this legislation to improve road safety. Introducing a regulatory framework for self-driving has huge potential to save lives.
“Research shows that 88% of road collisions involve an element of human error which would be eliminated with self-driving vehicles.
“There are also benefits for the wider economy. It’s estimated that the self-driving industry will be worth £42 billion and create up to 50,000 highly skilled jobs by 2035, and a legislative framework opens up opportunities for businesses to capitalise on this. For insurers, it also provides crucial clarity for establishing liability.”
Wayve co-founder, Alex Kendall: “Today’s announcement that the Government will bring forward legislation for self-driving signals to the global self-driving industry that the UK Government is committed to fostering innovation for the future of transport.
“By setting out a clear path to commercialisation, new primary legislation for self-driving vehicles gives us the confidence to continue investing in R&D and growing our talent base here in the UK.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the Government to cement the UK’s role as a global centre of excellence for self-driving technology that will make our roads safer and unlock new growth.”
Brian Wong and Lucy Pegler, of law firm Burges Salmon, provide more background here including: “The first King’s Speech in 70 years has reaffirmed the Government’s intention to introduce legislation underpinning a new legal framework for self-driving vehicles… reform has been a long-time coming and, certainly from industry’s point of view, much-needed.
“Much of the thinking, debate and groundwork has already been undertaken for this bill and, in the final session before the UK’s next General Election, that may be an all-important factor in circumstances where there is expected to be many competing calls for effective use of limited parliamentary time.”
Professor Paul Newman CBE, Co-founder of Oxa, said: “Building a regulatory framework that simultaneously encourages innovation alongside appropriate safety oversight and transparency will allow the public to build trust in these complex AI driven self-driving systems, and that is no small feat. Delivery of the AV Bill has taken a vast amount of smart thinking from agencies across the UK, including DfT, CCAV (Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles), the VCA, BSI, the Law Commission and Ministers and business leaders, founders and technologists like myself.
“The Bill will lead to new laws and a comprehensive regulatory framework creating a new class of driver (the first in 100 years) delivering clear partitioning of responsibilities and accountabilities for all the actors that must come together to enable self-driving vehicles at scale… If the Bill does its job, which I think it will, the UK will be ahead of the game with legal frameworks that aid development and, importantly, are not a retrofit solution.”
Lisa Johnson, of Starship Technologies, said: “What the Autonomous Vehicle Bill means for companies like Starship we don’t know yet. Hugely positive that there is going to be legislation in this space, but, as we say a lot, it needs to cover the whole sector not just large, road-based vehicles. There are opportunities to support innovation and investment in last-mile that shouldn’t be missed.”
Philippe Colpron, Head of ZF Aftermarket, said: “For the UK is to fulfil its aspirations of becoming a tech powerhouse, it is imperative that emerging technologies are embraced, one of these being autonomous mobility. Though the ambition of having a widespread adoption is exciting, it’s vital to acknowledge that the transition to autonomous mobility won’t occur overnight as it will require, beyond technology readiness, a full eco-system of services.
“One crucial challenge which we should ensure not to overlook is the importance of predictive and connected maintenance solutions for the autonomous vehicles. While they promise advancements in safety, efficiency and convenience, their success is intricately linked to diligent and preventive maintenance solutions. There are currently over 42,000 repair and maintenance businesses across the UK and we must ensure to bring them along, for example through training and workshop technology, so they can continue servicing the vehicles of today and tomorrow.”
Dr Nick Reed, of Reed Mobility, said: “I’m very pleased for all involved in getting the Automated Vehicles bill into the King’s speech today – but this is not an end point. This is a trigger for the further hard work needed to establish safety and trust in this technology. It will not be easy and will need resolute focus on the essential data needed to give assurance in safe, efficient, ethical operation. We must also co-create solutions that meet the needs, expectations and desires of the communities into which the technology is deployed, gaining their input and support for new services. I look forward to helping make this happen.”
More to follow…
The full speech can be read and seen here