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MPs launch investigation into self-driving vehicles

MPs have launched an inquiry into the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles (Philip Toscano/PA)
MPs have launched an inquiry into the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles (Philip Toscano/PA)

MPs have launched an inquiry into the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles.

The Transport Select Committee announced it is investigating what needs to happen for them to become a common sight on public roads.

This will include assessing safety issues and the perception of safety, considering the relationship with other road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and users of conventional vehicles.

The committee will analyse the progress of research and trials into autonomous and connected vehicles in the UK and overseas, and the likely uses of them for private motoring, public transport and commercial driving.

Required changes to regulations such as the vehicles’ legal status, insurance and authorisation processes will also be investigated.

Fully driverless cars are not yet legally permitted in the UK, but autonomous features are being developed by car makers.

The Highway Code will be updated on Friday to state that users of self-driving cars will be allowed to watch television programmes and films on built-in screens, but using a phone will remain illegal.

The code, which contains advice and rules for people on Britain’s roads, will also state that users will not be responsible for crashes, with insurance companies liable for claims.

But motorists must be ready to take back control of vehicles when needed.

The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 jobs in Britain and be worth £41.7 billion to the economy by 2035, according to the Department for Transport.

In April last year, the department said it would allow hands-free driving in vehicles with lane-keeping technology on congested motorways, at speeds of up to 37mph.

A full regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles is expected to be in place by 2025.

Oxford-based technology firm Oxbotica completed its first fully autonomous, driverless vehicle test on publicly accessible roads last month.

The fully electric vehicle used a combination of radar and laser-based systems to enable it to be operated on the city’s roads with no on-board driver.

Oxbotica hopes the vehicle’s first on-road business use will take place next year, with Ocado Group, delivering groceries.

Last week, the Law Commission of England and Wales began seeking views on regulating remote driving, which involves vehicles being controlled by someone potentially several miles away.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said self-driving technology has the “tantalising prospect” of removing human error from driving.

But he warned it will be “many years before we are all being carried around in completely autonomous cars”, so in the short term we must “address how best to live in a hybrid world” with self-driving vehicles and human drivers interacting with each other.

He went on: “The pressing challenge for regulatory authorities is to come up with a roadworthiness testing regime that ensures the driverless tech can cope with the many and various circumstances it might encounter out on the road.

“We require human drivers to pass both a theory and a practical test. It looks like we now need the equivalent for the cars themselves.”

The closing date for written evidence to the Transport Select Committee is August 22.

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