Insuring driverless cars – DfT confirms proposed approach

The UK's Department for Transport (DfT) has published its response to a consultation on proposals to support the arrival of advanced driver assistance systems and automated vehicle technologies.

The DfT revealed its plans alongside a study showing that driverless cars could cut road delays

The consultation period began last July when the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles published its initial proposals in the document Pathway to driverless cars: proposals to support advanced driver assistance systems and automated vehicle technologies.

The DfT's response follows feedback from businesses and the public, and sets out the Government's next steps as it seeks to make the UK a leader in driverless car technologies.

The consultation sought views on the Government's proposed programme of regulatory reform, including:

  • proposed amendments to the motor insurance framework to ensure that driverless cars will be covered by insurance
  • regulatory changes to support automated driving systems that are likely to come to market within the next two to four years (such as motorway assist systems, remote control parking and vehicle platooning technologies)
  • the provision of guidance to drivers via the Highway Code and Construction and Use Regulations about the safe and proportionate use of new advanced driver assistance systems.

A rolling programme of reform to support driverless technologies

In its response, the Government said it had received positive support from automotive, road safety, legal and insurance organisations for its proposed approach to a rolling programme of reform to support driverless technologies.

It also received support for its proposed focus on near-to-market automated vehicle technologies – those likely to be available within the next two to four years.

As a result, said the Government, it would continue with its proposed rolling programme of regulatory reform.

Creating an insurance framework for driverless vehicles

We are on the pathway to driverless cars, where fully automated vehicles will transport people and goods to their destination without any need for a driver. The Government wants to secure the UK’s position at the forefront of this change for the development, construction, and use of automated vehicle technologies.
— Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, 'Pathway to driverless cars: Consultation on proposals to support Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and Automated Vehicles – Government Response'

Having consulted on the changes to the compulsory motor insurance framework needed to accommodate driverless cars, the Government said that it would limit legislative changes so that the market could develop insurance products for automated vehicles.

To protect potential victims in the event that a driverless vehicle crashes while operating autonomously, the Government has also amended its insurance proposal. It will now extend compulsory motor vehicle insurance to include the use of autonomous vehicles, and create a single insurer model.

Under this model, an insurer will cover both the driver's use of a self-driving vehicle and the autonomous technology itself. That way, if a driver is using a vehicle in driverless mode, an innocent victim of a collision (inside or outside the vehicle) would be able to claim from the insurer.

The Government also noted that while it was resisting calls from some respondents to use the consultation as an opportunity to overhaul the UK's entire compulsory motor insurance framework, it was not ruling out further action in future.

The insurance proposals will be taken forward under the Government's Modern Transport Bill.

Changes to rules and regulations for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

Click here to read the Government's full consultation response

Click here to read the Government's full consultation response

Following significant support for its proposals, the Government confirmed that it would work to clarify a number of rules set out in the Highway Code and the Construction and Use Regulations to support the safe use of advanced driver assistance systems.

In light of consultation responses, it said that it would not amend a regulation stopping drivers from viewing screens displaying information not related to the driving task, while driving.

The Government is also going to hold off making proposed changes to the Highway Code rule governing separation distances, which it had suggested to support the introduction of vehicle platooning technologies.

The DfT will now continue to develop policies for its proposed changes and consult again on a set of specific proposals.

Commenting on the Government's response, Ben Howarth, senior policy adviser on motor and liability at the Association of British Insurers, said: “It’s good to see the Government adopting the insurance industry’s proposals to keep motor insurance as straightforward as possible for customers in a world of increasingly automated vehicles. We look forward to seeing further details in the Modern Transport Bill. 

“In the meantime we will be continuing our productive relationship with the Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, helping officials work through the various challenges created by this evolving technology. 

“Automated vehicles have the potential to revolutionise our transport systems and dramatically improve road safety, but it’s right the insurance system is developed in parallel to give motorists confidence in using them.”

This article was updated on 12 January 2017 to include comment from the Association of British Insurers.