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New legislation puts self-driving cars one step closer to taking to the roads in the UK

Image shows a self-driving car. The UK government has indicated it will introduce legislation to regulate and develop the autonomous vehicle industry.
Image shows a self-driving car. The UK government has indicated it will introduce legislation to regulate and develop the autonomous vehicle industry. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews and AP
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UK prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government signaled its intention to introduce new legislation to develop and regulate the sector.

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The self-driving vehicle sector in the UK was given a boost on Tuesday as King Charles III indicated "that new legal frameworks" would be introduced to support the emerging industry at the State Opening of Parliament.

While the details have remained scant, industry watchers have welcomed the move which aims to support the safe commercial development of the sector.

"I think the devil is going to be in the details because, you're right, this has been something that's been talked about for a long time," Lisa Johnson, the Director of Public Affairs at Starship Technologies, said.

"At the moment we're hearing that there's actually going to be self-driving legislation, but we don't know whether that's going to cover just big on-road vehicles or if it's going to cover the sort of thing that Starship does, which is sort of low speed, low weight robots that travel across the pavement," she added.

There are six different levels of driving automation ranging from fully manual (0) to fully automatic (6), according to an international scale by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

It is believed that the new legal framework will pave the way towards "level four" autonomous driving which would allow for fully autonomous vehicles under specific conditions.

British prime minister Rishi Sunak has been keen to compete in the fast-growing and cutting-edge technologies of AI and automation, amid charges that the UK has been falling behind.

"If other countries in the EU or further afield are actually making laws that facilitate investment and the roll-out of this technology, well, there's going to be some difficult decisions to be made if the UK doesn't actually keep up with that," Johnson said.

But she acknowledges that public trust across the sector is key.

"If you're a company like Starship that invests a lot of time, energy and effort in making sure you are safe, the last thing in the world that you want to happen is for a company that's not as good at that, who thinks they're better at autonomy than they are, to come along and for it not to work because that will set back the entire sector as a whole," she said.

"Building trust is difficult. It's one of those things that we really have to focus on in terms of how we introduce autonomous devices and vehicles to the public," Johnson added.

The UK government has underlined that the new legislation will ensure clear legal liability for who is responsible during crashes involving self-driving cars.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Aisling Ní Chúláin

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