Autonomous cars look set to revolutionise the way insurers do business, and many may have hoped that their introduction would be some way in the distant future. However, it seems the opposite is true and they are in fact inching ever closer – with the UK government pushing forward with a framework that will allow for the introduction of driverless cars partly in response to the threat of losing manufacturers post-Brexit, according to a commercial lawyer.
With the technology for autonomous vehicles advancing quickly, markets around the globe are racing to create laws and infrastructure that will allow for their arrival. But with the added pressure of Brexit looming, the UK has even more incentive than its rivals to put the pedal to the metal, according to Lucy McCormick, barrister at Henderson Chambers.
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“We are expecting a significant degree of competition between countries to put in place laws that are really attractive to driverless car developers,” McCormick said at the Insuring Autonomous Vehicles 2018 conference last week.
As well as legislation that will allow for autonomous vehicles on the roads, what developers are looking for “above all” is legal certainty, the barrister explained.
“They want to be able to predict in advance where liability will lie and know whether a particular piece of technology that they want to put on the market will fall on the correct side of the line,” she said.
That has led to a race to legislate all over the world, particularly as there is a great deal of money at stake. But the UK has an added pressure due to its impending departure from the European Union.
“It’s fair to say that the UK is particularly motivated because we have created some well-known difficulties for ourselves in relation to trade,” McCormick said.
“Driverless cars fit into this because they are particularly important to the UK as a way to encourage our manufacturing industry to stay post-Brexit. This level of motivation is one of the reasons why things have been moving relatively quickly in the UK in terms of new laws.”
Currently, there are no barriers in the UK’s road traffic laws to restrict having driverless vehicles on the roads – meaning it is “perfectly legal” to test automated technologies without changing primary legislation. That’s given the UK something of a head start on a number of other countries, in which primary legislation will have to be amended to allow driverless technology on the road.
However, the UK government revealed last year that it is working on an insurance framework that will address the liability issues arising from self-driving cars, paving the way for them to be on our roads by 2021 – a move which McCormick said has seen described as the “world’s first driverless car insurance legislation.”