The King's Speech: Accelerating the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles 

November, 2023 - Shoosmiths LLP

The King's Speech 2023 unveiled an ambitious vision for the future of transportation - heralding a new era of self-driving vehicles in the UK.

The speech introduced a comprehensive plan to integrate autonomous vehicles into daily lives, as part of the government's commitment to advancing transportation technology. The proposed Automated Vehicles Bill will provide the Department for Transport with the necessary authority to certify the safety of driverless vehicles.

This legislation will also 'hold companies firmly accountable once vehicles are on roads' - potentially making them liable in the event of a crash involving a driverless vehicle operating in autonomous mode. The Bill aims to streamline the legal framework towards automation, reducing the need for a safety driver.

The introduction of driverless cars brings with it a wave of economic opportunities, paving the way for cutting-edge research, development, and job creation within the automotive sector in the UK.

The promise of safer, more efficient, and environmentally friendly transportation systems could reshape the automotive landscape. However, several critical questions remain unanswered, including the establishment of safety standards and the legal framework for the handover of responsibility when a human driver transfers control to a semi or fully autonomous driving system and subsequently retakes control.

While the push for driverless cars takes centre stage, another significant aspect of the King's Speech that has garnered far less attention but carries substantial implications for the automotive industry is the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. This legislation - carried over from the previous session - may impact manufacturers' efforts to integrate subscription services into their customer offerings.

This Bill could disrupt manufacturers' auto-renewal subscriptions for a wide range of services, from features like heated seats to digital subscriptions. Key provisions of the Bill include the requirement for manufacturers to send complex reminder notices to customers, an enhancement of customer cancellation rights, and prescribed consumer rights for non-compliance. Enforcement powers will be vested in the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), underscoring the importance of compliance in recurring subscriptions.

The King's Speech has set the stage for a bold new era in transportation with the roll out of driverless cars. While this vision promises to usher in exciting opportunities for research, development, and job creation, it is essential to address the various challenges and unanswered questions, including safety standards and the legal framework.

Alongside the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, these legislative initiatives will shape the future of transportation and the automotive industry in the UK, providing many points for discussion and debate in the days and months to come. Indeed, Shoosmiths' mobility team will continue engaging with industry partners, clients and government. This follows the firm advising a raft of automotive manufacturers on developing driver assistance systems, contributing to the Law Commission’s consultation on autonomous vehicles and participating in the PRINCE consultation, a UK funded project on the Politics of Road transport InsuraNCE at the University of Oxford.


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