The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) has introduced new insurance rules to cover self-driving cars as part of the new Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill.
The government’s measures provide for a single insurance product for automated vehicles that will cover both the motorist when they are driving and the car itself when it is operating in automated mode.
The DfT said that this approach would provide innocent victims of a collision with an automated vehicle with quick and easy access to compensation.
Through the bill, the Secretary of State for Transport will be given powers to classify which vehicles count as ‘automated’ and are therefore subject to the new insurance requirement.
“Automated vehicles have the potential to transform our roads in the future and make them even safer and easier to use, as well as promising new mobility for those who cannot drive,” said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
“But we must ensure the public is protected in the event of an incident and today we are introducing the framework to allow insurance for these new technologies.”
The government wants the UK to become a world leader in driverless technologies, and is aiming to remove some of the barriers that may limit companies from testing them in the UK.
Self-driving vehicles will allow the driver to hand over full control and responsibility to the vehicle when automated technologies are switched on.
However, the question of insurance liability is a complex one for regulators and policy-makers seeking to support the development of driverless technologies.
Other countries are therefore likely to monitor the UK’s approach with interest as they consider how best to approach self-driving car insurance in their own markets.
Proposed approach welcomed by UK insurers
Ben Howarth, Senior Policy Adviser for motor and liability at the Association of British Insurers, welcomed the new measures.
“The insurance industry is 100 per cent committed to supporting the development of automated vehicles, which have the potential to dramatically improve road safety and revolutionise our transport systems,” said Howarth.
“We welcome the release of the new Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill because it demonstrates the Government’s clear commitment to moving forward when it comes to automated vehicles.
“As an industry, we want to keep insurance as straightforward as possible, which is why insurers proposed the simple approach which the Government is now taking forward.”
David Williams, Head of Underwriting at AXA UK, said: “This is a positive step forward that provides clarity to insurers to ensure we design our products appropriately. It keeps protection of the general public at its heart which we hope will encourage early adoption of some really impressive technology.
“The vast majority of accidents are caused by human error and we see automated vehicles having a massive impact, reducing the number and severity of accidents. As well as making our roads safer, insurance premiums are based on the cost of claims and therefore we expect substantially reduced premiums to follow.”
The DfT’s announcement follows a consultation on proposals to support the arrival of automated vehicle technologies – including amendments to the motor insurance framework to ensure driverless vehicles would be covered by insurance.
In January, the Government published its response to the consultation, confirming its proposed approach through a rolling programme of regulatory reform focused on near-to-market automated vehicle technologies – those likely to be available within the next two to four years.
New measures to support electric vehicles
Alongside the new measures for self-driving car insurance, the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill also aims to improve the provision of electric vehicle charge points in the UK.
“If we are to accelerate the use of electric vehicles we must take action now and be ready to take more action later,” said Transport Minister John Hayes.
“I recognise that to encourage more drivers to go electric, the infrastructure needs to become even more widespread than the 11,000 charging points already in place and more straightforward.”
To ensure easier access to infrastructure to support electric vehicles, the government said that motorway services and large fuel retailers could be made to provide electric charge points and hydrogen refuelling stations.
The measures could also help to ensure motorists have easy access to data about the location and availability of charging stations, and make it simpler for electric vehicle drivers to use the different networks available.