Autonomous vehicles inquiry set up in the UK

Farming? Space? Oh the places driverless cars can go

A UK parliamentary committee will look into the potential uses and benefits of autonomous vehicles in a new inquiry it has opened.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said its inquiry would look at how 'driverless' vehicles could be used for road transport as well as in areas such as farming and space exploration. It said the UK "has the potential to become a world leader in developing, producing and deploying autonomous vehicles".

Lord Selborne, chair of the Committee, said: "We will examine what the government is doing to support research into developing autonomous vehicles in the UK, as well as the real world implications as these vehicles start to appear on the roads and in the work place. If the UK is to be at the forefront of this transport revolution, investment into research is vital to ensure the technology is perfected, allowing the public to embrace the use of autonomous vehicles."

"There are potentially considerable economic opportunities and public good benefits from this technology. We will look at whether the government’s actions are appropriate in supporting these opportunities. We welcome submissions of written evidence – and later oral evidence – to ensure that we can carry out the most thorough and informative inquiry possible." Stakeholders have been given up until 26 October to share written evidence with the Committee for the purposes of its inquiry.

The Committee has set a number of questions, including asking for views on the potential applications for driverless cars, what benefits and disadvantages stakeholders foresee there to be for users in their deployment, and what changes need to be made to existing insurance, regulation and legislation in the UK to support the development and use of autonomous vehicles.

Stakeholders have also been asked to outline their opinion on the potential size of the "market opportunity" for driverless vehicles and what changes, if any, they think would need to be made to "digital or physical infrastructure" to account for the vehicles' "successful deployment". A full list of questions is contained in the Committee's call for inputs (5-page / 97KB PDF).

Earlier this year the UK government said it plans a "rolling programme of regulatory reform" to support the adoption of autonomous vehicles. It has identified changes to motor insurance and road traffic laws as among its initial priorities which were outlined in a consultation published by the government's Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (C-CAV).

The government has already established a code of practice for testing driverless cars in the UK, and some trials have already taken place and further are planned, including by Swedish car manufacturer Volvo. However, an industry survey carried out by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, found that nearly 80% of respondents believe the UK government needs to change current laws either urgently or very urgently to facilitate driverless cars testing and use.

An earlier report published by Pinsent Masons in April identified outdated road traffic laws, complexities in patent licensing and restrictive data privacy rules as among the obstacles to the testing and adoption of driverless and connected vehicles.

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