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Government to reform rules of the road for autonomous cars

The UK government has proposed amendments to insurance legislation and the Highway Code as it seeks to drive the development of autonomous vehicle technology

The government has announced a package of measures to boost the development of the UK’s autonomous vehicle industry, including new legislation covering insurance, amendments to the Highway Code, a major public consultation on the technology, and a £30m injection into its Intelligent Mobility Fund.

The reform programme is intended to make the UK’s roads ready for advanced driver assistance and driverless technology, and include a strong emphasis on ensuring autonomous cars are as safe as possible.

This follows a major setback for the burgeoning industry when the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in a crash while using the car’s autopilot feature. The accident, in Florida, happened after neither the Tesla’s on-board systems nor the driver recognised a truck crossing the car’s path ahead.

The UK government now proposes to change the law to allow automated vehicles to be insured for use on the roads, and will bring forward these changes in the upcoming Modern Transport Bill.

For now, it is understood that motor insurance will remain compulsory but will be extended to cover product liability for automated vehicles, so that if a driver has handed over control to their vehicle, they can be reassured that their insurance will still be valid if something goes wrong.

If an accident does occur, the driver’s insurer will pay out in the usual way to compensate victims, but the insurer will be able to claim the money back from the car manufacturer if the vehicle itself is deemed to be at fault.

The Department for Transport has been in talks with the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI’s) automated driving insurer group over these issues for some time.

“It is good to see the importance of insurance to the vehicles of the future recognised within this consultation,” said the ABI’s director of general insurance policy, James Dalton.

“Insurers strongly support the government’s ambition to make the UK a world leader in this technology and believe the insurance industry has a key role in helping to give consumers confidence in using these vehicles when they become more widely available.”

The Highway Code amendments will ensure that advanced driver assistance systems which, for example, allow lane changes on motorways or reverse parking, are used safely.

Read more about insurance for automated vehicles

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the public consultation will invite stakeholders and any other interested parties to have their say on how autonomous vehicles are embraced and used in the UK.

“Britain is leading the way, but I want everyone to have the chance to have a say,” he said. “Our roads are already some of the safest in the world and increasing advanced driver assist and driverless technologies have the potential to help cut the number of accidents further.”

The consultation will begin straight away and will continue for nine weeks.

Also, the government will launch a new competition for a further £30m from its Intelligent Mobility Fund, for research and development of new connected car technologies.

This adds to a £20m fund that was doled out to several projects in February 2016, and an additional £19m fund for pilot projects that are under way in Bristol, Coventry, Greenwich and Milton Keynes.

Business secretary Sajid Javid said: “Britain’s auto industry has always been at the forefront of innovation and research. This additional £30m of funding for R&D is a further sign of our commitment to making sure we are creating opportunities for UK businesses to thrive and attract global investment in world-class technology.”

Cars with features such as remote controlled parking and motorway assistance are expected to be widely available in the UK by the end of the decade. The timetable for fully-autonomous cars has not been fixed, although the government said it expected such vehicles to take to the roads from 2025 onwards.

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