We're not regulating driverless vehicles until others do

No point in Blighty going its own way before tech hits 'market readiness' – minister

The British government has declared it is waiting for industry and international regulators to start creating standards for autonomous vehicles.

In a letter to the House of Lords, which had raised a number of questions about the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill currently before Parliament, junior transport minister Baroness Sugg said the government is holding back until the various technologies have matured enough to be regulated without harming innovation.

"Whilst we do know that there will be different types of automated vehicles, with varying levels of sophistication, it is not possible at this stage to state what those changes will be. With this in mind it would not be appropriate to set definitive regulations in legislation at this time," wrote the baroness.

Her letter (PDF, 4 pages) explained that future autonomous vehicles intended for road use in the UK will probably go through the standard UK type certification process, as for every other type of road vehicle. Type approval is a blanket process.

"It is worth noting," added Baroness Sugg in her letter, "that necessary powers already exist to create new Motor Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations for automated vehicles through the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is for this reason that new regulation making powers are not necessary in the Bill."

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The minister also explained the lack of protections for data generated by autonomous vehicles, saying: "It is likely that these data recorders will be regulated on an international basis... it would be against UK interests to act unilaterally before decisions have been taken."

The AEV Bill is intended to achieve two things: the creation of a new insurance system so people can still make claims if an auto auto crashes while driving itself; and new laws forcing petrol station operators to install electric car charging points and hydrogen fuel pumps.

Although less high profile than the electric car part of the bill, the government is keeping a second string to its bow with a trial of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles to see whether that energy technology could have equal or greater prominence than purely electric vehicles in the future.

A UK ban on all sales of normal road vehicles has previously been announced. It will take effect in 2040, though some are already demanding it be brought forward a decade. ®

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