The UK government says self-driving cars could be on UK roads by 2025 and has announced £100m (around €118m) for safety research.
According to government plans, self-driving cars, buses and trucks could hit the highway next year. A new law is being developed that will allow for a wider and safer use of unmanned vehicles by 2025.
The government has also begun consultations on a proposed “safety goal” that would require a self-driving car to be “as safe as a competent and careful human driver,” according to a Department of Transportation statement.
The government hopes to expedite new insurance and liability legislation so that manufacturers, not drivers, are held liable for accidents when the vehicle is in autonomous driving mode.
However, the UK Government’s Center for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) report “Responsible Innovation in Self-Driving Vehicles” indicates that there is a long and difficult road to go if the public has confidence in self-driving vehicles and the rules governing their use.
The CDEI warns that there is a risk that self-driving cars will be abandoned by the public if they are not deemed safe enough.
“Medium improvements in road safety, even if they can be clearly demonstrated, will not inspire public confidence if crashes are seen as the fault of faceless technology companies or lax regulation rather than human driver error,” CDEI said in its report.
For the public to see that autonomous vehicles are equivalent to trains or planes, they must “expect a 100-fold increase in average safety compared to manually operated vehicles. »
Professor Jack Stilgo of University College London, who advised the CDEI, told the BBC that setting a level of safety for self-driving cars should be a democratic decision. “The danger comes in a world where these changes are only occurring for one mode of transport and the benefits are not spread very widely,” he said.
CDEI believes self-driving cars should be clearly marked so that people know which “agents” they are sharing the road with. He is also concerned that the technology may make it necessary to change roads and traffic rules to accommodate self-driving cars.
To gain public confidence, the CDEI recommends regulations that require technology makers to explain the conditions under which autonomous vehicles can operate, such as road types, location, weather, and the behavior of other road users.
He notes that to reduce their liability, technology companies are interested in narrowly defining the field of operational design for unmanned vehicles, that is, the operating conditions under which a vehicle’s driving automation system is specifically designed to operate.
CDEI also recommends consultation with persons with disabilities to ensure the rules are inclusive.
“Continued dialogue and social research is needed to deepen understanding of the public’s views on accountability, labeling, explainability of decisions made by virtual assets, and possible infrastructure changes as AV systems expand and evolve. »
The answers to these questions will affect “safety (infrastructure), acceptability of AV (labelling, explainability), and liability and obligation to provide compensation (liability),” the CDEI said in a statement.
Product delivery and transfer to the airport
The government estimates that the use of self-driving cars on UK roads could create up to 38,000 jobs and add £42bn to the economy.
Out of a total package of £100m, the government today confirmed £34m for research to “support developments in safety and provide more detailed legislation” and £20m for books to “enhance commercial self-driving services and ensure business growth.” He sees potential in food delivery and airport transfers, building on the £40 million already invested.
The government hopes the “safety goals” consultation will set standards for self-driving cars, including whether manufacturers should be penalized if their technology doesn’t meet those standards.
The CDEI report builds on proposals from the Legal Commission’s January report on how to regulate self-driving vehicles.