A new legal framework to enable self-driving cars to be used on Britain’s roads was announced in the King’s Speech on 7 November. Much of the industry has welcomed the announcement, while some have called for further legislation.

The long-awaited Automated Vehicles Bill will provide the sector with the confidence it needs to develop the technology in the UK, the government said.

The bill, announced in the King’s Speech, comes as the UK industry voiced concerns about lagging behind other countries, mainly the US, on the number of places self-driving cars can be used in the country. 

The bill aims to make sure that liability over who is responsible in the situation of a crash. The government claims it will hold the company running the vehicle responsible when the car is in self-driving mode. 

When questioned if making the company liable would discentivise manufacturers from investing the UK, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “No, we believe that’s a common-sense approach which both protects the consumers and ensures they’re not unfairly held accountable.

“Clearly, if a vehicle is driving itself it’s right that the company, rather than the individual, is responsible for the way it is driven.”

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All drivers will remain in need of insurance and a valid driving test. 

Lisa Johnson, director of public affairs at robotics company Starship Technologies, said the bill is welcomed but “will be a missed opportunity for the UK if the bill doesn’t cover the whole sector”.

“It’s entirely right that large, on road vehicles are regulated but we need to see a framework for smaller, low-speed devices such as Starship’s robots that operate on pavements and provide a popular, low carbon service to local communities,” Johnson said.

Starship Technologies announced earlier this year that it became the first autonomous delivery robot company to travel over 10 million kilometers, surpassing the miles travelled by autonomous vehicle companies Waymo and Cruise.

The company recently expanded its service in the UK to Greater Manchester.

The robots are now a common sight in Milton Keynes, Northampton, Bedford, Cambourne, Cambridge and Leeds, as well as multiple university campuses across the US.

The self-driving legislation is an incredibly important milestone for the entire self-driving industry, Sarah Gates, director of public policy at Wayve, said.

UK-based Wayve, AI-powered autonomous vehicle manufacturer, recently ran an autonomous grocery delivery trial with Asda. 

The project marked the largest autonomous delivery trial in Europe, delivering value to 170,000 residents and 72,000 households in London, the company said. 

“We will continue to work closely with the government to ensure the UK can become a pioneer in this AI-powered industry and unlock the £42bn of economic growth that this technology offers,” Gates said.