The UK’s regulatory environment makes it the ideal centre for driverless technology

Driverless technology and its various opportunities have been at the forefront of many minds. Although we are far from Back to the Future II’s version of the ‘modern day’ car, the benefits are clear. The average driver in England, spending 235 hours driving every year, can save up to six working weeks a year worth of driving time. And it’s been said that automated vehicles will reduce accidents – 90 per cent of which was caused by human error.

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So it’s no wonder that the government has today “confirmed the UK is uniquely positioned to develop driverless technology”. This may sound like old news, but it appears that Britain has an advantage over its rival countries.

The UK’s regulatory environment sets it apart as a premium location for such technology. The government also suggested that Britain has “some of the most challenging and diverse traffic, road and weather conditions in Europe and London is Europe’s only ‘Megacity’. This makes the UK the ideal centre for testing and developing these technologies.”

With this in mind, they are keen to keep the momentum going. “By working with the devolved administrations, the government will review and amend domestic regulations by summer 2017 to accommodate driverless vehicle technology,” a recent review from the Department of Transport said. “They will liaise at an international level with an aim to amend international regulations by the end of 2018.”

That’s a definite green light and call for full speed ahead.

Of course, “the increased interest in automated vehicle technologies has led some countries around the world to review their regulatory requirements,” suggested the review. Some have even taken steps to amend their legislative framework.

In Europe, only Germany and Sweden are known to have completed a review of their legislation in this area, the latter having already started testing. Finland, France and Netherlands are currently progressing one. This is all largely due to the a barrier known as the Vienna Convention on road traffic.

According to the review, “this requires that ‘every moving vehicle or combination of vehicles shall have a driver’ and that ‘every driver shall at all times, be able to control his vehicle’. Some have taken this to be a barrier to the introduction of automated vehicles. The Convention is in the process of being amended to allow a car to drive itself so long as the system can be overridden or switched off by the driver, though it has been argued a further change is needed to allow automated vehicles on the roads in many countries.”

So far, only France has pressed for an amendment on the Convention, something that seems to hold no sway over the UK even though we’re one of the countries signed up. And in Italy, in principle, automated transport systems may be considered legal “if they are certified according to a technical standard which has been developed for rail systems”.

North America hasn’t fared any better. Although it was the first country to introduce legislation to permit testing of automated vehicles, only four of its states have done so.

“15 states have rejected bills related to automated driving and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a preliminary statement of policy which advises states against authorising members of the public to use self-driving vehicle technology at this time,” the review explained.

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