House of Lords committee to question officials on advantages of driverless cars

View of Big Ben from westminster bridge with lights from passing traffic

On 1 November, the UK’s House of Lords Science and Technology Committee will hold the first oral evidence session of its inquiry into autonomous vehicles.

During the session, it will hear evidence from a number of government officials and academic experts as it explores the future uses of driverless vehicles in the UK.

The committee is interested in the real-world implications of the deployment of driverless vehicles on UK roads.

Its inquiry is looking at a range of issues, including legal liability in the event of an accident, the UK’s preparedness in terms of infrastructure and the development of regulations governing self-driving cars.

The committee will assess how far away the deployment of driverless vehicles onto UK roads is likely to be, while also exploring the progress made by other sectors, such as the marine industry and agriculture, in developing driverless vehicles for use off road.

The committee’s hearing will be divided into two parts. First, the committee will hear from Ian Yarnold, of the Department for Transport’s International Vehicle Standards Division, and Iain Forbes, Head of the UK Goverment’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).

The CCAV was set up by the UK Government in July 2015 to co-ordinate official policy relating to driverless cars and connected technology.

Committee members are likely to explore several areas in this first session, including: 

  • Whether autonomous vehicles will be able to operate safely, efficiently and effectively using existing infrastructure or if the UK will need to make significant new investments
  • The anticipated benefits of driverless vehicles, and what problems their increased deployment might create
  • Whether the UK is doing enough on autonomous vehicles, compared to countries such as the USA, where research has been underway since around 2008
  • What tools will be required to regulate, certify and enforce the software and artificial intelligence used to operate driverless vehicles.

In the second witness session, the committee will hear from the following:

  • Professor David Lane, Professor of Autonomous Systems Engineering, Director of Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, Heriot-Watt University;
  • Dr Rob Buckingham, Director, UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA); and
  • Professor Simon Blackmore, Head of Engineering, Harper Adams University.

With these witnesses, the committee is likely to explore:

  • whether it is clear who will be legally accountable for a vehicle that ‘thinks’ for itself;
  • to what extent the UK can devise its own regulations and standards for autonomous vehicles, or whether this will require international cooperation; and
  • the impact autonomous vehicles might have on employment.

The committee will hold its next oral evidence session on 8 November and is aiming to report to the House of Lords with its recommendations in early 2017.