Auto Industry To Police Driverless Safety, Says UK Minister

Safety standards for testing driverless vehicles will be left to the automotive industry to police, according to a UK government minister.

This was confirmed by Transport Minister Jesse Norman in an exclusive interview with TU-Automotive regarding his government’s recently published Code of Practice for Automated Vehicle Trialling and the safe deployment of AVs in the country.

The minister discussed a clause in the document which says AV trial operators must show they can conduct trials “safely” and said the government was “leaving it to the industry to decide what they think meets a proper burden of proof” of that safety.

Evidence based standards

Norman said: “There, obviously, are evidential standards if you’ve run particular trials on many, many multiple occasions without safety loss, if you’ve run them across a very high number of different use cases, if you’ve run them in different conditions, if you’ve run them in different weather. There are lots of different things that will build up in due course to an argument that these things should be done with a remote check driver or without a driver in the vehicle. So, there’s a series of things. We’re not going to lay down in advance what counts as credibility. We expect the industry to come forward.”

However, he added that the government would not let operators develop their own safety standards. “We think the industry will develop technologies. We think it will run trials under current law. It will then pitch to run trials under the emerging regulations that we’ve put here for potential driverless trials. We’re going to have to be persuaded that those are very safe and very secure before we’re going to permit that to happen. We’re not going to allow standards to be set by the industry if we don’t think those are extremely safe and secure.”

He said it was unlikely that his government would be turning its existing codes of practice and guidance for AV trials and cyber-security into legislation soon. “The government and the AV technology organizations, some of which are vehicle companies, some of which aren’t, need to work together on an equal footing where guidance, permissions, legislation, and licenses are validated in advance because of technology breakthroughs that ensure safety and security.”

Uncertain future

Norman admitted that emerging technologies will always bring a certain element of risk yet regulators must be cautious about stifling innovation. He explained: “I don’t think we’re going to be rushing to legislation in this area because the future remains extremely uncertain. We have to just kind of back into it together or advance on a broad front of the industry in order to avoid mistakes and preserve the value of not just security and safety but also, of course, innovation at the same time. If you rush to legislation, you could end up stifling innovation and we’re keen to use legislation as an enabling device as well as to protect other security and safety issues.”

Norman also expressed the view that AVs could be useful to the UK’s rural communities as well as the urban ones in which they are often trialed. He said: “You see use of autonomous features on vehicles when they’re not in urban contexts. In fact, almost always when they’re not because urban contexts create use cases that are too complex for autonomy to be able to deal with.”

“There will be specific services that will be rolled out, I’ve no doubt, as markets develop in rural areas, that we can’t contemplate now and that will be quite different from those in urban areas. I’m personally very interested in the idea of AVs as a support to community transport operations or as a support to devices that allow elderly people and disabled people more personal autonomy or capacity to visit loved ones or to combat loneliness and isolation.”


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