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Self-driving vehicles will unleash a transport revolution – but we need new legislation to seize this opportunity

(Alamy)

3 min read

Just a few weeks ago, I was in a room with people representing one of the most exciting technological innovations we could see for many years, as I launched the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Self-Driving Vehicles.

Many in this sector believe we are on the brink of a transport revolution that the government can help unleash. I share their optimism, and not just because I’m an optimist. It’s a genuinely exciting opportunity. 

The global self-driving vehicle market is set to reach a whopping $2tn by 2030. For us here in the United Kingdom, this represents an awesome opportunity, with global investors already pouring funds into some of our most exciting startups who are trialling their technology on the UK roads – and even delivering groceries in little robots in my patch in Milton Keynes.
But to fully grasp the potential of self-driving vehicles, we need a legislative framework now so businesses can continue developing and ultimately deploy their technology here in the UK. At the launch of the APPG, transport minister Richard Holden showed that the government understands the benefits of self-driving vehicles and the importance of legislation, but there’s still so much to do.

Road safety will be transformed by self-driving vehicles

Self-driving vehicles represent a fantastic investment opportunity for the UK and will help address some of the key challenges facing society today.

First, the economic benefits of self-driving vehicles are considerable. The government’s own research shows that the technology will provide a £42bn boost to the UK economy by 2035 and create 50,000 jobs. Self-driving vehicles are part of the £630bn growth opportunity presented by artificial intelligence in the UK.

Second, road safety will be transformed by self-driving vehicles. The four leading causes of road traffic accidents are driver error, reckless behaviour, disobeying traffic laws and driver impairment. That is many preventable serious injuries and deaths caused by human error. Self-driving cars will make our roads safer by taking the driver away from being behind the wheel.

Third, self-driving vehicles will enable the UK to reach net-zero. With the clock ticking on the UK’s carbon neutrality pledge, electric self-driving vehicles can revolutionise this sector by cleaning up congested cities and putting an end to particularly polluting driving practices like sudden acceleration and idling.

Fourth, this technology has the potential to boost productivity. Polls indicate that the average Brit spends almost four years behind the wheel over the course of their lifetime. Self-driving vehicles can help make up for this lost time, so people can do the things that enhance their lives, like learning new skills.

Self-driving vehicles offer a massive opportunity. So what’s holding the UK back? The answer is simple: a lack of legislation. Unlocking the benefits of self-driving vehicles doesn’t require a significant government investment, just legislative changes.

If we want to get self-driving vehicles on our roads, the government needs to introduce legislation that sets out safety measures that will help build trust in self-driving technology. 
Introducing this legislation without further delay will let businesses get on with seizing this potentially pivotal moment and keeping up with global competitors like France and Germany, who already have legal frameworks in place. 

This legislation is just the first step in a broader process of developing detailed standards and processes that will enable self-driving. By moving forward with the legislation, we can work towards meeting the government’s target of getting self-driving vehicles on the road by 2025, securing our position as a global leader.

The UK could be a leader in the self-driving vehicle market, but it must urgently drive us into the future with legislation to better support businesses in developing this technology. 

 

Ben Everitt, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes North and chair of the APPG for Self-Driving Vehicles

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