Government to consult public on self-driving cars

The government is launching a major consultation on the future of autonomous cars, but what does it mean for motorists?

Words By What Car? team

Need a valuation?

Obtain a FREE used car valuation for any vehicle.


An article image

The UK government has launched a consultation to help pave the way for the use of self-driving vehicles on British roads.

At the heart of the consultation are two new proposals that will focus on bringing motor insurance rules and The Highway Code up to date with the fast-paced development of autonomous vehicle technology.

How will the consultation affect car insurance?

The first proposal is focused on clarifying the insurance law surrounding autonomous vehicles.

β€œInsurance law will be changed so that, in the future, motorists who have handed control to their β€˜self-driving’ cars can be insured properly,” says the Department for Transport (DfT) on its website.

Working closely with the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the government has concluded that motor insurance will remain compulsory, but the scope of the coverage will have to change, with insurance extended to cover product liability for automated vehicles.

The DfT says that in the event of an accident, β€œthe driver’s insurer will still pay out in the normal way so road accident victims are promptly reimbursed, but the insurer will then be able to claim the money back from the car company if the vehicle is deemed to be at fault”.

Unfortunately, the consultation document fails to address who would be responsible in the event of an accident, or who would be responsible for investigating the cause of a crash. It only goes so far to say that β€œIt is possible the fault could rest with the driver or with the manufacturer” and that proving who was at fault could be a β€œcomplex and time-consuming” process. This hints that the law will develop in a reactionary way, which is not ideal for motorists.

Why does the highway code need updated?

The Highway Code will need to be updated because of Rule 160, which states β€œyou should drive with both hands on the wheel where possible” which, at first glance, appears to be a rather sensible regulation. However, with the rise of remote control parking features and motorway assists, numerous drivers could potentially be found to be in breach if their hands are off the steering wheel.

Some early autonomous driving systems, which are due to appear as early as 2018, will allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel for two minutes at a time, so it's neccessary that the code be amended to keep pace with technology.

Where can I have my say?

The government is encouraging the public to contribute to the new measures. If you want to have your say on the future of autonomous technology, the consultation document can be found here.

Want to read more about self-driving cars? Our full guide is right here.

Neil Winn

Got a motoring question? Our experts are standing by to help, just tweet us your question using #askwhatcar

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals from What Car?, sign up to our weekly newsletter here