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Types and levels of connectivity and automation

Many modern road vehicles are capable of some level of connectivity, which enables the vehicle to communicate with its surrounding environment (e.g. providing useful information to drivers about road, traffic and weather conditions). Connectivity is closely associated with vehicle automation, in which vehicles use information from on-board sensors and systems to understand where they are, including in relation to their surroundings. Increasingly, new road vehicles are capable of some level of automation, in which the vehicle can make decisions and control aspects of driving (e.g. advanced driver assistance, lane assist and park assist).

Numerous established vehicle manufacturers and technology companies around the world are now developing and testing vehicles that can make the full range of driving decisions and take full (i.e. self-driving) control of part or all of a journey.

Potential benefits of CAVs

The main areas in which CAVs could deliver benefits, include making it more convenient and easier to drive, improvements to safety and in accident reductions, through reducing congestion, delivering associated economic and productivity benefits, and increasing the mobility of people currently unable to drive, including young, elderly and disabled people.

Barriers to adoption of CAVS

Public perceptions and attitudes towards autonomous technologies are likely to be important factors in the level and pace of adoption. Increasing public acceptance may be a considerable challenge with surveys suggest that many people are not ready to put their trust in full automation.

The development of fully autonomous vehicles will also require the resolution of ethical issues, including the moral dilemma of how a CAV should react in the event of an imminent collision in which it has the opportunity to “choose who to save” from injury or death. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s March 2016 report noted that this was “a conundrum faced by car manufacturers, buyers and regulators”. The UK Government has not begun to address these issues of “algorithmic morality” in its domestic regulatory approach.

In 2018, the Law Commission was commissioned to review the regulatory framework. Its final report is due to be published at the end of 2021.

Government approach

The Government’s approach to date has been to try to create the conditions in which the UK can capitalise on the opportunity to develop and market CAV, including, in the long term, autonomous or self-driving vehicles. The Department for Transport’s (DfT) view is that the UK can position itself at the “cutting edge” of CAV research and development, thanks to its “permissive Regulations; thriving automotive sector; and excellent research base and innovation infrastructure”.

In February 2015, the DfT published an in-depth regulatory review, which found that the existing framework did not present a barrier to testing autonomous vehicles (AV) on public roads. It subsequently published a Code of Practice for AV testing, and established the UK Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. The Centre is supporting three projects, which are testing a range of advanced CAV in Bristol, Greenwich in south east London, and Milton Keynes and Coventry, in trials due to run until 2018.

The Government legislated through the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 to set broad parameters of how automated vehicles involved in road traffic accidents would be treated for insurance purposes.

In April 2021, the Government’s consultation response confirmed that it would proceed with allowing Automated Lane Keeping Software (ALKS) type approved self-driving vehicles on GB roads, possibly as early as the end of 2021.

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