While the political environment in the UK is "volatile" to say the least, the same cannot be said of the U.K.'s appetite for autonomous vehicles. So far, the government has put forward tens of millions of pounds in funding to assist companies looking into research and development in this area. Indeed the concept of autonomous vehicles on the roads of the UK was also mentioned in the recent Queen’s speech, clearing a passage for various law changes and new regulations. It will surprise many to learn that autonomous vehicles in the UK are much closer than you might expect and it could be just a matter of months - as opposed to years, before they are allowed on the UK transport network.
Is the technology good enough?
Whether you are in favour of autonomous vehicles are not, there is no doubt that the technology associated with self-driving vehicles is there for all to see. We only need to look across the pond to see the likes of Tesla Motors, which has introduced its own form of autonomous driving to the roads of the U.S. Critics will highlight a recent death which was connected with an autonomous Tesla vehicle but the company has made numerous responses to these allegations, most of which revolve around the fact drivers are still advised to keep an eye on the road and their vehicle. While of no benefit to those who have suffered from autonomous vehicle crashes the fact remains that autonomous vehicles could save literally hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. and across the world. The technology is here and it is working and while there may need to be more tweaks, the idea of autonomous cars will not go away.
Laws and regulations
The UK government is currently pushing through a number of amendments to transport laws and regulations which will allow the use of autonomous vehicles in the UK. They should be fairly straightforward but one area which has caused some controversy is insurance for autonomous vehicles. Surprisingly, the UK government has been fairly sensible in its approach to the area of insurance stating:
Progress but more to do
There has been great progress in the areas of technology, road regulations and potential changes to the insurance industry; but make no mistake about it there is still much work to be done. One area which has hardly been touched yet is that of the court of public opinion which is very sceptical of autonomous vehicles and the recent accident in the U.S. involving the Tesla autonomous system does not help. If the UK authorities are able to push through the various law and regulatory changes and research and development funding is maintained, then the UK could actually become a competitor to the U.S. market which has stolen a march in the area of self-driving/autonomous vehicles. Let the battle commence!