Motoring of the future - Transport Contents

4  Managing change

Public confidence

53. Public confidence in new technologies is vital. Many new technologies that are a priority for the automotive industry are a response to demand from customers. The market has a major role in determining which technological developments become manufactured products. Unless the public are better informed about the potential benefits of different technologies, demand could skew development away from technologies that could make a real difference. For example, concern about refuelling infrastructure might affect take-up of alternatives to petrol and diesel. We heard anecdotal evidence that owners of electric vehicles sometimes struggle to find recharging points with a compatible plug for their vehicle. Whether or not those problems are real, the perception that they create has the potential to damage take-up of vehicles and to undermine the DfT's good work on initiatives such as the plug-in car grant.

Regulatory framework

54. Professor Miles told us that it might be possible to produce a driverless car within the next five years, but that the key question was whether such a vehicle would be allowed to drive autonomously on UK roads.[105] Similarly, Chris Reeves identified the key challenge as changing regulations and legislation to take people out of the decision-making process in driving.[106]

55. Professor Sampson suggested that the capabilities of autonomous safety systems would need to be regulated, as would some form of certification and testing regime for them. He explained that various international bodies were looking at those issues, and that it was important that the UK remained actively involved. He observed that the UK was leading on some aspects, but that there were still "too many pockets of activity" and that "somebody somewhere ought to be joining up the thinking".[107] The Institute of Mechanical Engineers told us that "legislation is not keeping up with the pace of technological change that allows for safety systems such as AEB and steering".[108]

56. An appropriate regulatory framework and testing regime is necessary to guide the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles. The public are understandably concerned whether self-driving vehicles are safe. Such concerns can be assuaged through effective regulation and action to educate drivers and raise public awareness. Legislation, regulation and standards have been used successfully in the past to encourage the take-up of particular technologies, and they have a role to play now. Thatcham Research told us that as technology becomes more complex, effective and autonomous, it "will pose significant challenges for implementation into the UK fleet and will demand Government legislative action".[109]

57. The failure to update legislation in line with the development of new technology may disadvantage the UK automotive industry. Professor Miles told us that developing autonomous vehicle technology presented real opportunities for the UK, but that unless Government moved quickly, "we are quite likely to lose the race."[110]

He observed that

    the very largest part of the activity in this area will almost certainly be driven by the established vehicle manufacturers or by people coming into the field, like Google, Tesla, Apple and players like those—people who have very deep pockets. They will choose to do their research in certain limited places around the world, often in the Far East, in the far west and sometimes in Europe as well. The UK has a very good opportunity … but it needs something to make that happen.[111]

We asked Professor Miles what that "something" might be. He told us that legislation was fundamental.[112]

58. Legislation covering driving, road use and vehicle type approvals—vehicle type approval confirms that a design will meet a particular performance standard—must be revised if autonomous vehicles are to operate on UK roads. The DfT must not allow UK legislation to fall behind both the pace of technological change and legislation in other countries. For example, the German Government has designated a stretch of autobahn for testing driverless vehicles. We note that the German transport minister is drawing up a legal framework to allow driverless vehicles to operate on all German roads with the intention of setting out the key points before the Frankfurt car fair in September 2015.[113] A failure to update legislation in line with the development of new technology may disadvantage the UK automotive industry.

59. The Minister told us that the DfT is "publishing a regulatory review […] which looks at all the regulatory questions around this technology."[114] The review was published on 11 February 2015.[115] The action plan that this review recommends sees domestic and international regulations being amended between 2017 and 2018 and the production of highly or fully automated vehicles from 2017-18.[116] We welcome the publication of the Government's regulatory review, The pathway to driverless cars and the roadmap that it sets out for changes to the legislative and regulatory framework. However, this high-level consideration will need to be supported by further work to identify exactly which legislation requires amendment if it is to have a significant impact.

60. The DfT should provide underpinning detail to support the legislative and other changes that it identified in its regulatory review. In doing so, it should articulate what changes it expects in the processes and systems for checking and enforcing compliance, and how it intends to ensure that its motoring agencies have the appropriate skills and knowledge to maintain and update testing and certification regimes.

61. It is important that the certification and testing regimes keep pace with developments in technology. These regimes have been used successfully in the past to encourage the take up of particular technologies and they have a role to play now. The DfT must bear in mind that new technologies are already being deployed in production vehicles and that some of the issues that the evidence to our inquiry and the review have identified, such as clarification of liabilities, are already live issues.

Research and trials

62. In July 2014, the Business Secretary Vince Cable MP launched a £10 million competition for UK cities to host trials of driverless cars.[117] Innovate UK, which is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, was chosen to run the competition and trials. In December 2014, it announced the three locations had been chosen to trial driverless cars, namely Greenwich, Bristol and Milton Keynes/Coventry. Each trial is expected to last for between 18 and 36 months. The trials are expected to start in January 2015.[118] The Minister told us that "the process was completely external to the Department … Importantly, there is both a lead industrial partner and a local authority partner."[119]

63. Professor Sampson told us that

    the DfT agenda of seeing how these vehicles might operate in real life seems to have turned into a BIS exercise to encourage technology development by the automotive sector. There's nothing wrong with that as an objective but it is not going to supply much new information about how we might incorporate highly or fully automated vehicles into UK traffic.[120]

Professor Oliver Carsten, Professor of Transport Safety, University of Leeds added:

    The Government has rather belatedly woken up to the promise of automated driving. But … I am not aware of any attempt to consult the research community about the safety challenges that need to be overcome in order to deliver safe automated driving. The focus is more on showcase demonstrations than on serious research.[121]

64. Witnesses discussed the research evidence for the effectiveness of different systems. Professor Sampson said that it was very difficult to research which technologies were most effective in terms of reducing accidents, because of the difficulties in running controlled trials of different features, with sufficient numbers of vehicles.[122] Professor Carsten explained that the key struggle was with the continual monitoring and evaluation of technology, and developing an understanding of how casualty rates were affected over time by different technologies.[123] He explained that while it was statistically possible to show the safety benefits arising from car impact regulations, it was "really hard" to do this in relation to other safety approaches.[124] Engineering the Future told us that there were many competing technologies which could develop in different ways and which would need to be trialled in the real world.[125]

65. In Chapter 3, we considered the use of telematics and black boxes to record information about when, where and how a vehicle was being driven [see paragraph 33]. Policy makers will need to take account of research on the impact of such technologies on driver behaviour. It is apparent that telematics has an introduction effect—people drive well because they know the box is watching—but there is little research on whether that behavioural change is sustained in the longer-term.

66. The public is understandably concerned about the testing of new technologies, particularly any 'driverless' technology. However, there are real advantages in making the UK the place where the global automotive industry tests and develops such technologies. We welcome the trials of driverless cars announced in December 2014 and the leadership shown by Innovate UK on ensuring the UK is well positioned to seize the commercial opportunities created by new automotive technologies. Showcasing the technology will be an important part of building public confidence. Public confidence will depend on knowing that these technologies can be deployed safely on real roads and with all the unpredictability of real traffic flows.

67. We are concerned that Innovate UK's inevitable focus on identifying commercial opportunities might lead to the trials not testing issues such as safety and how autonomous vehicles might be incorporated in UK traffic flows. We are confident that the DfT and Minister understand that concern. In launching the report, The pathway to driverless cars, the Minister stated that "there's no point in a driverless car that can navigate cones in a car park without navigating our busy streets".[126] We welcome the approach set out by the DfT in The pathway to driverless cars and look forward to seeing the proposed code of conduct.

Driver training

68. Driver training must reflect new automotive technology. Gerry Keaney, BVRLA, told us that

    the technology is way ahead of the training. What you have to do to pass a driving test today probably does not include the use of adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking devices or the various radar appliances in the car itself … If you use autonomous braking in the wrong way it can be very dangerous. If you use it in the right way it is an absolutely fantastic feature.[127]

The Minister told us that "changes are now being trialled in the new driving test proposals, for example, to try to focus much more on practical skills and take out things like reversing around a corner, which is not perhaps the most realistic thing that people do."[128]

69. As well as updating the regulatory framework, the DfT will need to examine how drivers are taught and how driving standards are monitored and enforced. New technologies open up possibilities for monitoring driving and periodically testing drivers, but those technologies also raise serious questions about privacy. The DfT faces the challenge of ensuring that drivers keep up with evolving technology and maintain an appropriate standard of driving. The DfT should undertake research on emerging models for driver training and the role new technologies might play in improving driving standards. Such research would need to address privacy, data ownership and data protection.

International standard setting

70. The motoring industry is a global business, and autonomous and low emission vehicles will not be developed exclusively for the UK market. Jaguar Land Rover stressed the importance of co-ordinating policies at an international level, stating that "given global trends in investment, and the setting of regulations by major global markets, UK Government co-ordination with other markets or influence in the EU is critical if it is to have any role in shaping future standards."[129]

71. TRL called on the Government to engage 'more proactively and positively with Europe on matters of common interest'. It stated that the Government's unilateral approach to standard setting commercially disadvantages UK business.[130] Professor Carsten pointed out that "there is no evidence of concerted Government involvement in international and European initiatives."[131] The RAC Foundation noted that much of the legislation and regulation that shapes motoring technology was defined at a European level and that it was therefore important for the UK to continue to help shape this and to ensure that national interests were given proper weight.[132]


72. eCall is a European Commission initiative. It involves the mandatory installation of a device in all new vehicles which will call the emergency services in the event of a serious road accident. The European Commission initially aimed to implement eCall throughout the EU by the end of 2015. It now believes that eCall will be implemented by early 2018 at the latest.[133]

73. The Minister explained Government policy on eCall:

    According to our analysis, the benefit of making it [eCall] mandatory in all new cars does not justify the cost of implementing it; I believe it was something like £370-odd million. There was a view that, given the increasing responsiveness of our road network—in a way, smart motorways do the same thing, which is to make sure that the emergency services are alerted to any accidents—we did not feel that it was appropriate for the UK. However, we are entirely happy for other member states to implement it, if it is appropriate for their own networks—perhaps if they have a less responsive emergency service, for example. We do not support the measure, because it is not cost-effective for us, but we are very happy for it to be implemented elsewhere.[134]

Even if one accepts the Minister's argument that the excellence of the road network and emergency services renders the introduction of eCall otiose in the UK—this argument may not hold in remote rural locations—we note that a sizeable proportion of UK motorists drive in other EU member states. In 2013, for example, some 6.7 million accompanied passenger vehicles—in other words, cars and minibuses—travelled between the UK and overseas destinations.[135]

74. In supporting the Minister's argument for non-engagement by the UK Government with the eCall initiative, Ian Yarnold, International Vehicle Standards, DfT, pointed out that "manufacturers would pass the cost on to the consumer."[136] We agree with Mr Yarnold that motor manufacturers are likely to pass the cost of introducing eCall on to consumers. However, we question whether international automobile manufacturers will differentiate between consumers in EU member states that have implemented eCall and those that have not in passing on the costs. In other words, UK drivers may well pay for eCall without benefitting from it.

75. The Government should engage positively in setting European and international standards to allow UK manufacturers to exploit new technology by developing products that are suitable for export and to secure the benefits of new technology for UK drivers.

Other barriers to adoption

76. Many new safety systems are already technically feasible, but have been held back because of issues relating to implementation, cost, effectiveness and public acceptability. Some driver assistance technologies are available in higher-end vehicles but are currently considered too expensive for cheaper vehicles where competition on price is intense and so extra features are minimised. Other systems have been held back because of Government policy. PACTS told us that it was positive about the potential for new technologies to deliver substantial safety improvements, but that policy rather than technology was often the limiting factor. It pointed out that safety technologies, such as Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA), had been available but rejected in the past.[137] Professor Carsten pointed to research evidence for the predicted safety impact of ISA, which indicated that it could lead to a significant reduction in fatal crashes, and said that the fact that the UK had not moved ahead with ISA deployment was "a major missed opportunity for a very substantial improvement in road safety". Brake, the road safety charity, urged the Government to produce a national digital speed limit map to exploit the potential of ISA technology to prevent speeding.[138] The DfT should set out how it will address barriers to the adoption of new technology other than the regulatory ones it has identified in The pathway to driverless cars.

77. The question of a driver or owner's civil and criminal liability for accidents and offences involving their vehicle will need to be settled if the public are to have the confidence that they will need to purchase cars fitted with new technologies. Resolving such questions will require further research and co-operation between Government, the insurance industry, motor manufacturers and organisations representing motorists, hauliers and public transport operators, cyclists and pedestrians.

105   Q16 Back

106   Q21 Back

107   Qq176-177 Back

108   Institution of Mechanical Engineers (MOF 034) Back

109   Thatcham Research (MOF 023) para 2.1 Back

110   Q26 Back

111   Q27 Back

112   Q27 Back

113   The Guardian, Germany creates laws for driverless cars, 1 February 2015 Back

114   Q256 Back

115   Q256 Back

116   Department for Transport, Driverless cars in the UK: a regulatory review, 11 February 2015 Back

117   Department for Transport , UK Government fast tracks driverless cars, 20 July 2014 Back

118   Innovate UK, Driverless cars: 4 cities get green light for everyday trials, 3 December 2014 Back

119   Q284 Back

120   Professor Eric Sampson (MOF046) Back

121   Professor Oliver Carsten (MOF041) para 5 Back

122   Q198 Back

123   Q210 Back

124   Q210 Back

125   Q166 Back

126   Department for Transport, Launch of 'The pathway to driverless cars' report, 11 February 2015 Back

127   Q90 Back

128   Q274 Back

129   Jaguar Land Rover (MOF036) para 4.1 Back

130   TRL Ltd (MOF007) paras 38 to 39 Back

131   Professor Oliver Carsten (MOF041) para 6 Back

132   RAC Foundation (MOF 021) Back

133   European Commission, eCall: Time saved = lives saved Back

134   Q257 Back

135   Department for Transport, Sea Passenger Statistics: 2013, February 2014 Back

136   Q268 Back

137   Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (MOF 047) Back

138   Brake, the road safety charity, (MOF 003) Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 6 March 2015