Commons transport committee sounds warning on driverless cars

Driverless cars could improve road safety and benefit the economy, but government must draw up clear plans for how they will be regulated, an influential group of MPs has claimed.

In its latest report, the Commons transport committee says that rise of driverless car technology represents a great opportunity for the UK automotive sector, but warns that the government needs to develop a clearer strategy around the introduction of disruptive automotive technologies.

The group of eleven MPs, which is charged with scrutinising the activities of the Department for Transport, calls on the government set out in detail how it will reform legislation to deal with driverless cars and address the relatively imminent scenario of manual, autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles running together on UK roads.

Autonomous car
Autonomous car

The report argues that in order to reassure the public, the Department for Transport needs to explain how vehicles will be certified and tested, how drivers will be trained, and how driving standards will be regulated. It suggests, for instance, that vehicle ownership will carry new obligations such as ensuring that the latest software updates have been applied to a vehicle.

Whilst acknowledging that intelligent systems could dramatically improve safety (human error accounts for more than 90% of road accidents) the committee says that legislators need to rapidly get to grips with the thorny issue of liability, and come up with clear guidance on who is responsible if a driverless car is involved in an accident.

The LUTZ Pathfinder will soon begin trials in Coventry and Milton Keynes
The LUTZ Pathfinder will soon begin trials in Coventry and Milton Keynes

Whilst the recommendations of the report have been widely welcomed by industry, there is skepticism in some quarters over whether driverless vehicle will ever be accepted by the public. Writing in his blog Edmund King, president of the AA, said that ‘what works for the boffins may be baffling for the motorists. What may be a quantum leap in auto sophistication may be a leap of faith too far for the average driver.’

The development and introduction of driverless car technology is at heart of the UK government’s automotive vision. As reported in The Engineer trials of driverless vehicles were recently launched in Greenwich, Bristol, and Milton Keynes and Coventry.