The Queen made a number of transport related announcements designed to put the UK at the forefront of autonomous technology

Queen's Speech: driverless cars drones and a commercial spaceport

The Modern Transport Bill has been introduced in the Queens Speech which promises to ensure the UK is ‘at the forefront of technology’ with nods toward driverless cars, drones and the UK’s first commercial spaceport.

It also hopes to reduce congestion and make ‘more efficient use of our roads, railways and airspace’ to boost the economy.

Ministers claim the Bill will make the UK a world leader for autonomous and driverless vehicle ownership.

It aims to encourage investment in the technology and ensure appropriate insurance is available to support the use of such vehicles.

"Insurers are already working on how to shape the right framework to keep insurance as simple and straightforward as possible for the future of driving,” said James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the Association of British Insurers.

"The transition from conventional vehicles to a world where drivers become passengers will be the trickiest stage but insurers are committed to supporting the roll-out of this important technology."

Trials of automated and driverless cars are currently taking place in Bristol, Greenwich, Milton Keynes and Coventry.

The Bill also features proposals to ensure the safe use of technology in the drone, autonomous car and space industries.

There have been dozens of reports of near misses involving drones and airliners near airports in recent months, leading to calls for unmanned aircraft to be licensed.

Last month a drone was believed to have collided with a British Airways flight landing at Heathrow, although it later emerged it may have been a false alarm.

A study by research firm the Teal Group estimated that drone production will soar from the current level of £2.8bn annually to £9.7bn, totalling £65bn in the next 10 years. Military drone research would boost this figure to £85bn over the decade.

The government is also aiming to have an operational spaceport by 2018, which could be used to launch tourists into space as well as commercial satellites.

In March last year six possible locations were announced which include: Campbeltown, Argyll and Bute, Glasgow Prestwick in South Ayrshire and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, as well as Newquay in Cornwall and Llanbedr in North Wales. RAF Leuchars in Fife was also confirmed as a potential temporary facility.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "Driverless cars and commercial space flight might seem like something science fiction, but the economic potential of the new technology is huge and I am determined the UK gets maximum benefit.

"If we want to propel Britain's economy into the modern age, and generate the jobs that will come with it, it is vital that the right rules are in place to allow new transportation to flourish.

Hugh Boyes, the IET’s cyber security expert, said that although driverless cars represent an exciting future for Britain’s transport network, they could be dangerous if the software is maliciously tampered with.

“We must ensure that cyber security is carefully considered. It is not just about the threat of a car being hacked, it also relates to the overall security and safety of the vehicle’s operation,” he said.

“For that reason it will be crucial that the government introduces proper regulations for autonomous vehicles, which should include the need for a software MoT to be performed on a regular basis.

“This should help to assure the ongoing trustworthiness of the vehicle software and systems.”

This cautious approach follows a recent survey which found that 70 per cent of Britons would not feel confident being a passenger in the first wave of driverless cars.

But Philippa Oldham, head of transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, largely welcomed the changes proposed in the Modern Transport Bill.

“Great Britain has the opportunity to become a global leader in developing autonomous vehicles as we have some of the most open regulation in the world with the Department for Transport issuing its Code of Practice for testing last year,” she said.

“In addition this open regulation should attract investment to the country encouraging others to come and test and develop their solutions here.”

But she warned that safety concerns needed to be taken into consideration, “we need to make sure that the integration of these autonomous vehicles into current fleet is done with the utmost care,” she said.

“Bringing together industry, legislators, regulators and members of the general public will ensure that we integrate and implement new regulatory regimes at the right time.

Edo Tealdi, managing director at business consultancy NTT DATA UK, believes that driverless technology has significant implications for the insurance sector.

“Driverless cars are set to drive the insurance industry round the bend,” he said.

“Laws allowing driverless cars to be insured under ordinary policies are… a clear sign that the insurance industry is being compelled to transform and embrace this new era of car ownership.

“The stage is set for the insurance industry to embrace a new era of technology, adapt processes and introduce a digital-first approach."

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