Two self-driving cars in a highway

UK to investigate the safety and potential of self-driving cars

Image credit: Foto 134441594 © Phuttaphat Tipsana |

UK MPs have launched an inquiry into the safe development and deployment of self-driving vehicles.

The UK Transport Select Committee has opened an investigation into the potential of autonomous cars. 

The committee will look into the research and trials that have been done into autonomous and connected vehicles so far, with the goal of better understanding the technology's potential uses for private motoring, public transport and commercial driving. To do so, it will assess possible safety issues and the perception of safety, as well as consider the relationship with other road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and users of conventional vehicles.

Once the investigation is completed, the committee might also request changes to be made to the current regulations regarding this technology, to introduce changes such as the vehicles’ legal status as well as create standard insurance and authorisation processes. 

Currently, fully driverless cars are not legally permitted in the UK. However, autonomous features are being developed by car makers and tested in specific trials such as a bus service in Scotland.

The reasons behind the slow adoption of this technology are, nonetheless, safety concerns. Earlier this month, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that carmakers reported nearly 400 crashes involving automated vehicles in the last 11 months. As a result of these accidents, six people lost their lives.  

This week, the UK Highway Code will be updated to ensure that users of self-driving cars are not held responsible for crashes. Instead, it will be insurance companies that will be liable in these instances. 

The update to the Highway Code is also expected to allow users of self-driving cars to watch television programmes and films on built-in screens, although using a phone will remain illegal and motorists will be required to be ready to take back control of vehicles when needed.

In April last year, the Department for Transport said it would allow hands-free driving in vehicles with lane-keeping technology on congested motorways, at speeds of up to 37mph. 

The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 jobs in Britain and be worth £41.7 billion to the economy by 2035, according to the organisation, with a full regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles expected to be published by 2025.

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