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Autonomous Vehicles rapidly moving up the policy agenda according to Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

As part of a Civil Service review of government preparedness to identify potential threats, risks, emerging issues and opportunities - last month the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has published a briefing paper on Autonomous road vehicles.

The PostNote Autonomous Road Vehicles provides some brief background and outlines recent policy developments, and positions the technology as 'rapidly moving up the policy agenda'.

Legislation in Nevada, California and Florida now means that they are being tested on public roads for the first time.

The briefing summarises the issues as:

  • Autonomous vehicles could improve road safety and reduce congestion and emissions. However this is an emerging area of technology and it is uncertain to what extent the potential benefits will be realised.
  • How autonomous vehicles could interact safely with other road users, and how they would communicate with each other, are the focus of ongoing research.
  • There is no UK legislation governing autonomous vehicles and there are no EU standards.
  • The main policy challenges are verifying the safety and reliability of autonomous road vehicles and creating a legal framework to allow their testing and deployment on public roads.

Case studies that are included are Ultra global PRT4 ‘Heathrow pods’ at Terminal 5; the Ricardo led European project ‘Safer Road Trains for the Environment’ (SARTRE) and the RobotCarUK project at the University of Oxford.


Impact of Autonouous Vehicles

The predicted impact of the technology and the feasibility of claims are examined for improved safety, Congestion and Traffic Management, and Environmental Impact.


Barriers to Adoption

The Barriers to Adoption are summarised as Communication Infrastructure; Cyber Security and Privacy; Public Attitudes; Policy and Legislation; and Liability and Insurance.

On the last point it quotes the SMMT view that "increasing levels of automation will need to be supported by developments within the insurance and legal sectors".


Horizon scanning

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) is an office of both Houses of Parliament, charged with providing independent and balanced analysis of policy issues that have a basis in science and technology.

The briefing was was researched by Anne Pawsey as a case study for what is known in Civil Service circles as 'horizon scanning' - that follows on from the Jon Day review of cross-government horizon scanning, a cross-government Horizon Scanning Programme has been set up to 'embed better horizon scanning capabilities in the policy-making process in the UK Civil Service and to co-ordinate activity'.

The Jon Day review defined horizon scanning as: 'A systematic examination of information to identify potential threats, risks, emerging issues and opportunities, beyond the Parliamentary term, allowing for better preparedness and the incorporation of mitigation and exploitation into the policy making process.'

The cross-government Horizon Scanning Programme aims to embed better horizon scanning capabilities in the policy-making process in the UK Civil Service and to co-ordinate activity. It will:

  • ensure implications for policy are highlighted at the right levels
  • establish a common baseline of understanding across government departments and organisations
  • minimise duplication
  • share best practice.

In July this year, The Science and Technology Committee held an inquiry into horizon scanning in Government, that used three case studies to test how useful horizon scanning processes are in government for informing policy, improve operational preparedness or resilience, develop robust strategies and decrease risk exposure.

The three case study report were on:

  • 3D printing
  • autonomous road vehicles and intelligent transport infrastructure, and
  • negative emissions technologies.

The Committee invited written submissions on these issues by noon on Wednesday 25 September 2013.

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