This week the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology will hold its first oral evidence session to support its investigation into the future uses of autonomous vehicles in the UK.
The Committee's Inquiry is running in tandem with the government's own determined initiative to allow Britain to lead the way globally in the testing of connected and autonomous vehicles. Promoting driverless cars is seen as an effective way to help strengthen the UK as a global centre for the wider and fast-growing intelligent mobility market, estimated to be worth £900 billion per year globally by 2025.
The government is wasting no time. Earlier this year, it awarded £20 million to eight projects across the UK to ensure the UK is able to take advantage of the latest technological developments in driverless cars research. A further £19 million is also funding driverless car projects in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry.
In July 2016, the government put out to consultation its proposals on preparing the way for automated vehicles. The government response is expected by the end of the year, ahead of driverless car trials beginning on the strategic road network (motorways and A roads) next year. However, what more is required before driverless cars become a reality?
In Kennedys' response to the Select Committee's call for written evidence, we confirmed our support for the UK to be at the forefront of this emerging automated vehicle technology. Investment in this technology should be embraced - bringing with it improved safety aspects and commercial advantages to business. In the midst of domestic and international political upheaval, a demonstration for innovation and policy leadership is to be championed.
However, as with all change, checks and balances are required. A political will to bring driverless cars the roads as soon as possible must be realised against a full and considered understanding of all the issues that this technology promises, including, cyber risk.
While one question in the government's July 2016 consultation was dedicated to third party hacking, it was couched in terms of such an incident being treated, for insurance purposes, in the same way as an accident caused by a stolen vehicle. The brevity of the question and the reasoning behind it suggest that the government needs a better understanding of the full magnitude of cyber risk and develop the best approach to combat it.
That observation must now, however, be balanced against the Chancellor having launched a new £1.9 billion cyber security strategy this week - almost doubling the funding commitments of the first strategy which ran from 2011. While the implementation plan may not extend to intelligent mobility specifically, it shows the seriousness with which the government is taking the subject.
Autonomous vehicle technology rests with the car manufacturer. The use of that technology, as well as its security, rests with the owner of the vehicle. The insurer of a driver of an autonomous vehicle does not have the technology to prevent a vehicle from being hacked. Therefore, the insurer should be able to exclude liability.
We are concerned that should motor insurers be required to 'pick up' the liability in the first instance for accidents caused by hacking, manufacturers might have cause to be less concerned about their responsibility for ensuring, educating and maintaining the cyber security of these systems.
It is also essential that an industry-wide group to advise ministers and civil servants on how the technology in this field is developing is formed and informs the wider cyber security strategy. Without it, the government will lack the necessary knowledge to inform their thinking on how regulation needs to change.
To assist with regulatory planning, one of the main objectives of such a group should be to reach a consensus on what type of vehicles are likely to arrive on the UK market over the next 10 years (in incremental stages of, say, two, three, five years and so on).
The overriding message we have taken from talking to motor manufacturers is that there is an urgent need for greater direction on what will constitute good, non-negligent, driving behaviour of autonomous vehicles. Such guidance is required for every aspect of vehicle use, from executing a good left turn or overtaking manoeuvre through to more complex driver behaviours.
Currently, the law requires drivers to use reasonable care to avoid harming anyone encountered on the road. If the driver fails to meet those requirements, he may be found to have been negligent. For instance, a driver is expected to keep his car under control by being able to stop quickly. Negligence may be inferred if a car loses control for no apparent reason. What behaviour is expected of the driver of an automated vehicle in such a situation?
Our conversations with motor manufacturers suggests that this important issue has been left to the imagination of the engineers. In the alternative, what is required is an urgent top-down approach from Government and, in particular, the Department for Transport. A detailed review of all relevant rules and regulation is required to ensure that the UK has in place a suitable framework to allow an enabling environment for autonomous vehicles - before they hit our roads. Revisions to insurance, regulation and legislation (including the Highway Code) are required to provide a detailed explanation of what good automated driving behaviours look like to avoid any confusion, and sooner rather than later.
Finally, it is heartening to see some great research is taking place in relation to autonomous vehicles. If the UK is to lead the way in the implementation of driverless cars, then greater research funding will be essential. Whether such funding will be as readily available in a post-Brexit climate is another factor to add to this important mix of promoting innovation in an increasingly digital world.
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