The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has published its report “Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The future?” setting out recommendations to ensure the Government makes policy and investment decisions that enable the UK to receive maximum economic benefit from the technology.
It says the Government must broaden its focus so that its work on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) cuts across all sectors and does not focus so heavily on road vehicles. Early benefits are likely to come in sectors such as marine and agriculture therefore the Government must not allow media attention around driverless cars to cause it to lose sight of the many potential benefits that CAV can provide in areas outside the roads sector.
The Committee heard evidence that realising the full benefits of CAV on the UK’s roads is likely to require new road and communications infrastructure. Mobile coverage on UK roads will need to be improved in order to take full advantage of the possibilities of connected vehicles. The Government must take action with Highways England and Local Transport Authorities to engage with industry to examine the potential for ensuring that new infrastructure can be future-proofed and will not need expensive retro-fitting.
The report notes that existing automotive manufacturers and new entrants will carry out their own research and development for fully automated cars, therefore, the Government should not need to invest heavily or take the lead in this area. However, the Committee conclude that the Government should continue to invest in the fundamental scientific research in robotics and information technology that underpins CAV.
Whilst the Government should not be involved in developing automated cars, the Lords say it must ensure that it prepares for the deployment of fully-automated road vehicles. This should include one or more large scale testing environments covering real world urban and rural environments.
The report says the main social, behavioural and ethical questions relating to autonomous cars remain largely unanswered; such as whether they will reduce accidents caused by human error. The Committee heard evidence that autonomous vehicles have the potential to lower the number of road fatalities, but the eradication of human error will only be realised with full automation which could take decades.
Furthermore, it adds, autonomous cars could have negative implications for drivers’ competence, making drivers complacent and overly reliant on technology. This is of particular concern in emergency situations, where a driver may react slowly to taking back control of a vehicle. The Government should give priority to commissioning and encouraging research studying behavioural questions and ensure it is an integral part of any trials it funds.
Chairman of the Committee, the Earl of Selborne said, “Connected and Autonomous Vehicles is a fast-moving area of technology and the Government has much to do, alongside industry and other partners, to position the UK so that it can take full advantage of the opportunities that CAV offer in different sectors.
“In order to ensure that the UK can benefit from emerging CAV technologies the Government must continue to take action to close the engineering and digital skills gap. We welcome the focus on skills in the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper and urge the Government to find innovative solutions to this problem.
“Long-term developments in CAV have the potential to bring about transformational change to society but these changes will only take place if society is willing to both pay for and to adapt its behaviour to fit the technology.”