King’s Speech introduces self-driving vehicle legislation

Image credit: House of Lords 2023 / Photography by Roger Harris

Fully autonomous vehicles could get the green light to operate on UK roads under legislation introduced in the King’s Speech.

Laws would be updated to make manufacturers liable if a driverless vehicle crashes while in autonomous mode and give immunity to people sitting behind the wheel.

The Automated Vehicles Bill would give the Department for Transport additional powers to certify the safety of driverless vehicles.

The government said the UK market for autonomous vehicles is up to £42bn and could create 38,000 skilled jobs by 2035.

According to The Times, the bill will pave the way for level four autonomous vehicles, which is the second highest level of autonomy and will not require a safety driver.

In his first King’s Speech as monarch, Charles III referenced self-driving vehicles, digital markets and machine learning.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the King said ministers will bring in new legislation to assist in the “safe commercial development of emerging industries, such as self-driving vehicles”.

The government said self-driving cars would make roads safer, citing stats that show 88% of accidents involve human error.

“The bill will provide the certainty and confidence that the private sector needs to unlock research, innovation, and investment across the whole of the UK,” the government said in a briefing document.

Professor Paul Newman CBE, co-founder, CTO and president of British driverless vehicle startup Oxa, said the bill will deliver “clear partitioning of responsibilities and accountabilities for all the actors that must come together to enable self-driving vehicles at scale”.

In addition to autonomous vehicle legislation, King Charles referenced a framework for digital market competition rules and technology innovation in areas including machine learning.

There will also be new legislation to help police forces tackle technology-enabled crime.

“My ministers will introduce legislation to empower police forces and the criminal justice system to prevent new or complex crimes such as digital enabled crime and child sexual abuse, including grooming,” the King said while opening a new session of parliament.

The new powers for law enforcement will be introduced as a result of “rapidly” shifting security threats as a result of “new technology” to give security and intelligence organisations “the powers they need”.

The King gave a nod to the government’s AI safety summit during his speech.

“The United Kingdom will continue to lead international discussions to ensure that artificial intelligence is developed safely,” he said.