The UK is set to squander lead in self-drive car technology and know-how because the Government is failing to introduce laws to let industry develop, MPs have warned.
Current UK laws governing the sector are “archaic and limiting”, which restrict testing and rules around legal liability.
Britain’s “competitive advantage” over rivals is at risk, unless ministers use November’s King’s Speech to introduce a new Bill to update the law.
New legislation should cover vehicle approval, accident liability, cybersecurity and personal data use, a parliamentary Transport Select Committee report says.
Failure to do so will do “significant and lasting damage both to the UK’s self-driving vehicle (SDV) industry and to this country’s reputation as a trailblazer.”
The UK became the first European country to allow drivers to take their hands off car steering wheels on public roads in April, after Ford gained approval to activate a system which controls a car’s steering, acceleration, braking and lane positioning. Fully self-drive cars remain banned on public roads.
MPs warn that assumptions that SDVs will prove safer than human drivers, “is not a given.” Self-drive cars being widely used on UK roads could be “decades away” it says. Safety must remain the Government’s overriding priority as SDVs confront ‘real-world complexity’.
The report questions the Government’s proposed “safety ambition” – that self-driving vehicles will be “expected to achieve an equivalent level of safety to that of a competent and careful human driver” – believing it is “too weak and too vague”. Ministers need to set a “clearer, more stretching threshold”, it says.
The UK also needed a plan “for the future of human driving in a world of SDVs”, the report warns, including possible changes to driving tests and a plan to ensure all drivers fully understand SDVs.
It also warns that while SDVs may be applied to buses and other public transport, it could also worsen congestion and exacerbate existing inequalities in access to transport, such as self-driving taxis being unable to offer the same assistance to disabled people as human-driven ones.
Iain Stewart, the Transport Committee’s chair, said: “Self-driving vehicles are a great British success story in the making and we have a competitive advantage over many other countries.
“All that hard work could be at risk if the Government doesn’t follow through and bring forward a Transport Bill.”
“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.
“If the Government is going to meet its ambitions for self-driving vehicle deployment, these knotty issues need to be addressed.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to make road journeys safer and the Government is putting safety at the heart of their development – ensuring they are safe, resilient and regulated.
“That’s why Government and industry have jointly invested £600m since 2015. This includes £34m of recent Department of Transport funding, to help develop self-driving vehicles that are secure, reliable and cyber-resilient.”