The UK government just fixed the biggest problem with driverless cars

The UK could be leading the way in driverless tech by 2020. Here’s why

Curtis Moldrich
18 May 2016
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In 2016, it’s easy to get excited about driverless cars. We have semi-autonomous systems on most new cars, and things like Tesla’s Autopilot make an autonomous future feel viable – but there is one thorny subject still to discuss: insurance. While we all get excited about cars that can see and adapt to road conditions, it’s easy to forget the more mundane and less glamorous issues. What happens when it goes wrong? And who pays for it?

That question has remained an elephant in the room – until now. In today’s Queen’s speech, the UK government promised new legislation that will make autonomous cars easy to insure, and it will kick in by 2020. The new laws will mean you won’t need to drive in carefully controlled ‘autonomous areas’ and you should be able to drive, or rather not drive, legally with other motorists. Of course, that will need a serious amount of preparation, so the government is keen to start testing the cars sooner rather than later. The autonomous trials will kick off in 2017 on smaller roads, eventually extending to the UK’s motorways.

Chancellor George Osborne backed the new legislation, saying: “At a time of great uncertainty in the global economy, Britain must take bold decisions now to ensure it leads the world when it comes to new technologies and infrastructure. 

“Driverless cars could represent the most fundamental change to transport since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Naturally we need to ensure safety, and that’s what the trials we are introducing will test. If successful, we could see driverless cars available for sale and on Britain’s roads, boosting UK jobs and productivity.”

The government’s announcement has been met with enthusiasm from leading car-makers such as Nissan, who released the following statement: “Any new legislation, such as we’ve seen announced, that supports the adoption and integration of autonomous vehicle technologies, is a positive for the UK,” said Paul Willcox, chairman of Nissan Europe.

“Autonomously equipped vehicles will improve the safety and well-being of drivers, with fewer collisions and reduced traffic congestion. The UK economy can also benefit, by playing a pivotal role in a global industry estimated to be worth £900 billion by 2025.”

Although insurance may sound boring when you put it next to driverless tech such as the Tesla Autopilot, it’s one of the most important issues for driverless cars. Manufacturers are happy to put money into driverless technology, and consumers are certainly interested, but without a proper legal framework it’s never going to happen. Today’s Queen’s speech promises to deliver just that.

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