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Britain aims to become leader in driverless cars

Piloted Drive 1.0: Nissan’s Qashqai Premium concept shown in Geneva recently previews the 2017 model update for the British-built SUV that will become the first model in Europe from the Japanese brand with ‘ProPilot’ autonomous technology.

New legislation aims to bolster UK drive to become leader in autonomous vehicles

General News logo19 May 2016


THE British government has announced plans to become a leader in the development of autonomous vehicles, encouraging investment in the sector and legislating to enable driverless cars to be insured under standard policies.

Delivered in the Queen’s Speech this week, which sets out the government’s policies and proposed legislative program for the new parliamentary session, the Modern Transport Bill is designed to place the UK “at the forefront of autonomous and driverless vehicles ownership and use”.

This applies not just to motor vehicles but drones and spacecraft, with the bill to set up the framework for the UK’s first spaceport – a port designed to launch commercial satellites and tourists into space, and which Australia and other countries including Spain and the United Arab Emirates are also planning – and pave the way for commercial spaceflight and drone operations across Britain.

In essence, the British government says the purpose of the new bill is to cut red tape “and put the right framework in place to allow innovation to flourish”.

It is aiming to put the UK “at the forefront of modern global transport developments as part of the country’s long-term economic plan” and to “maintain and extend the UK’s role as a world-leading transport manufacturing base”.

The government also aims to ensure that autonomous vehicle technology “delivers better, safer journeys, while keeping Britain at the cutting edge of international transport technology”.

Among the benefits cited are reduced congestion and vehicle incidents, quicker journeys (for people and goods), skilled job creation in the hi-tech industry and substantial economic growth.

Industry figures show that UK car manufacturing reached a 10-year high in 2015, producing 1.6 million vehicles – 1.2 million of which were exported.

The British government has thrown its weight behind the local car manufacturing sector and taken a proactive position on electrified vehicles, launching a plug-in car grant in 2011 that has seen more than 60,700 eligible electric cars registered.

Trials of automated vehicles are currently underway in Bristol, Greenwich, Milton Keynes and Coventry, and the government says “we expect to see vehicles (cars and/or pods) driving themselves later this year” as a direct result of the so-called ‘4 Cities’ program. Each city received £19 million ($A38.4m) in funding.

Britain’s car industry has welcomed the latest announcement, with Nissan among the car-makers to benefit directly as it prepares to introduce the brand’s first car in Europe – and the first UK-manufactured car – equipped with autonomous technology in 2017.

This will be the updated Nissan Qashqai with the ‘ProPilot’ system – “stage one” self-drive technology that enables the car to drive autonomously in a single lane in heavy traffic conditions on highways.

Further afield, Nissan has committed to launching “multiple-lane” control in 2018 – allowing the car to autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes while driving – while in 2020 it will introduce “intersection autonomy” whereby the car will be able to navigate busy city intersections and heavy urban traffic without driver intervention.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance has also vowed to launch more than 10 vehicles with full autonomous drive technology by 2020 in the US, Europe, Japan and China – “installed on mainstream, mass-market cars at affordable prices, with a focus on accessibility to all customers”.

“Any new legislation, such as we’ve seen announced, that supports the adoption and integration of autonomous vehicle technologies, is a positive for the UK,” Nissan Europe chairman Paul Willcox said this week.

“Autonomously equipped vehicles will improve the safety and wellbeing of drivers, with fewer collisions and reduced traffic congestion. The UK economy can also benefit, by playing a pivotal role in a global industry estimated to be worth £900 billion ($A1.8 trillion) by 2025.”

A study by KPMG commissioned by the UK Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) last year valued autonomous cars and related systems as potentially worth £51 billion ($A103b) a year to the UK economy by 2030. It could also create 320,000 jobs.

“SMMT welcomes government’s commitment to accelerate the development of connected and autonomous vehicles in the UK,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “This is a huge opportunity for Britain, with the potential to deliver significant road safety improvements, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and generate £51 billion for the economy by 2030.

“Today’s announcement will help the UK position itself as a global leader in innovation and building the cars of the future.”

The insurance industry is also facing a massive overhaul with the advent of autonomous cars, with issues such as liability to be resolved and, if all goes to plan, a dramatic reduction in the number of crashes ahead that should cause premiums to plummet.

Volvo Cars president and chief executive Hakan Samuelsson told a seminar in London earlier this month that the company, which is one of the leaders in autonomous vehicle development and testing, would accept liability if one of its cars were involved in a crash where its technology was found to be at fault.

“The medium- to-long-term impact on the insurance industry is likely to be significant. But let’s not forget the real reason for this – fewer accidents, fewer injuries, fewer fatalities. Autonomous drive technology is the single most important advance in automotive safety to be seen in recent years,” he said.

Research done recently in the US by the NHTSA found that the number of crashes were set to drop by 80 per cent by 2035 as a result of the advent of autonomous cars.

Overseas reports indicate that Britain has an advantage, legally, over other countries because it never ratified the Vienna Convention, which requires that “every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle”.

Those countries which did will be required to amend regulations to begin testing automated vehicles.

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