Lords committee calls on Government to ensure UK benefits from autonomous vehicles

Man using a smartphone while driving a car

Following its recent inquiry into the future uses of driverless vehicles in the UK, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has published a report detailing its recommendations, in which it calls on the Government to ensure it makes policy and investment decisions that enable the UK to receive the maximum economic benefit from autonomous vehicles. 

The committee warned that the Government risks focusing too heavily on road vehicles at the expense of other sectors. 

Its report – Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The future? – calls on the Government to broaden its focus so that its work on connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) cuts across all sectors.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles is a fast-moving area of technology and the Government has much to do, alongside industry and other partners, to position the UK so that it can take full advantage of the opportunities that CAV offer in different sectors.
— Lord Selborne, Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee

Because early benefits are likely to come in sectors such as marine and agriculture, said the Committee, “the Government must not allow media attention around driverless cars to cause it to lose sight of the many potential benefits that CAV can provide in areas outside the roads sector”.

The Committee also found that there was no clear central coordination of strategy or information sharing across the different sectors likely to benefit from connected and autonomous vehicle technology and robotics, such as marine, road and agriculture.

It called on the Government to take steps to promote information sharing, including the urgent creation of a Robotics and Autonomous Systems Leadership Council to play a key role in developing the strategy for connected and autonomous vehicles.

“Connected and Autonomous Vehicles is a fast-moving area of technology and the Government has much to do, alongside industry and other partners, to position the UK so that it can take full advantage of the opportunities that CAV offer in different sectors,” said Lord Selborne, Chairman of the Committee.



Road safety and fully-automated vehicles

Notably, the Committee found that while connected and autonomous vehicles have the potential to lower the number of road fatalities, the elimination of human error on the roads would only come about through full automation.

The Committee’s report also warned about the dangers of complacency in certain types of connected and autonomous vehicles, with the risk of drivers becoming over-reliant on autonomous technologies and not being ready to take back control in an emergency. 

In such situations, warned the committee, the risks of Level 3 automation (where an automated vehicle performs the driving task with the expectation that a human driver will intervene if necessary) may be “too great to tolerate”. 

Additional recommendations for connected and autonomous vehicles

In its report, the Committee also said that: 

  • The Government must take action to close the engineering and digital skills gap, to ensure the UK can benefit from emerging CAV technologies.
  • While the Government should not need to take the lead in developing automated cars, it must prepare for the deployment of fully-automated road vehicles.
  • To attract manufacturers and academics to the UK, the Government should put together a comprehensive testing and research offer for connected and autonomous vehicles that includes one or more large scale testing facilities covering real world urban and rural environments.
  • Local Transport Authorities must be able to pool resources in order to minimise the duplication of work and maximise the potential benefits of connected and autonomous vehicles.
  • While CAVs have the potential to increase accessibility and mobility, they may not be suitable for some people with mobility problems.
  • The theory that CAVs may reduce traffic congestion will depend on the level of vehicle autonomy and the penetration rate of such vehicles. The right policy decisions must be made to reduce the potential for “total gridlock” in city centres.
  • Data gathered from CAVs must be used in accordance with data protection laws. However, a balance will need to be struck between protecting personal privacy and sharing data about a vehicle’s position, speed and performance where this is used to help CAVs operate safely and efficiently.
  • The Government should play a leading role in the development of international standards to address the ethical issues raised by the increased development and deployment of CAVs.

“Long-term developments in CAV have the potential to bring about transformational change to society but these changes will only take place if society is willing to both pay for and to adapt its behaviour to fit the technology,” said Lord Selborne.