back to article UK.gov: We're not regulating driverless vehicles until others do

The British government has declared it is waiting for industry and international regulators to start creating standards for autonomous vehicles. In a letter to the House of Lords, which had raised a number of questions about the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill currently before Parliament, junior transport minister …

  1. Gordon Pryra

    Good call

    Somethings doing nothing is the best answer

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Good call

      Came here to say just that

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good call

      Government has a history of Wu wei.

    3. Martin Gregorie

      Re: Good call

      But there's a problem: merely by writing an AEV bill they've implicitly locked autonomous vehicles into the same cage as electric ones. That just seems like an unnecessary step to take at this stage. Two separate bills seems like a better plot.

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: Good call

        Yes

        The current batch of partly autonomous are mostly not electric. Many electric are not autonomous.

        Electric is also a dumb way to be trying to go as a method of storing energy.

  2. Zippy's Sausage Factory
    Meh

    Hmm...

    "It is worth noting," added Baroness Sugg in her letter, "that necessary powers already exist to create new Motor Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations for automated vehicles through the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is for this reason that new regulation making powers are not necessary in the Bill."

    Regulation making powers.... that usually means some government ministers / quangos have the right to create the rules without parliament having a vote on the rules, doesn't it?

    I smell a large, brown-envelope-stuffed-full-of-used-tenners* shaped rat...

    * I was going to put fivers, but inflation...

    1. Commswonk

      Re: Hmm...

      The British government has declared it is waiting for industry and international regulators to start creating standards for autonomous vehicles.

      While I would agree that enacting standards and regulations now would probably be a mistake, the topic should, nonetheless, be the subject of rigorous informed discussion starting not later than , er, now.

      Why is HMG sitting on its hands waiting to adopt other peoples' ideas when it ought to be ready to participate in future discussions from a more or less equal starting point?

      And what if everyone else does the same thing? A last minute dash to get something enacted, with all the usual consequences of a knee - jerk reaction.

      Perhaps it's the "informed" bit that's causing difficulties.

      As per usual, we are being let down. No change there then...

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Hmm...

        @ Commswonk

        "As per usual, we are being let down. No change there then..."

        How are we let down by this? What are we regulating? This is a fast developing and rapidly changing/improving area of technology which will not be helped in any way by pointless regulations. If others start throwing out regulation again we dont want to just copy it but see if it is a good thing in the first place before applying it.

        If others regulate it out of existence that is good news for us as the industry will find it cheaper to do it here and we take the lead on the technology. If we make knee-jerk rules then yes you are right it is bad, but trying to do anything on this without this being an established and available product/service is knee-jerk in itself.

        Tim Worstall does a good piece which is relevant-

        http://www.continentaltelegraph.com/2018/03/04/the-wrong-brothers/

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Hmm...

          "If others regulate it out of existence that is good news for us as the industry will find it cheaper to do it here"

          Not so good for those who become collateral damage of the testing process. There's certainly one regulation that needs to be in place: anyone testing on public roads should put up money in escrow to cover injuries. It should not be necessary for anyone injured or has property damaged or the family of anyone killed to have to sue for compensation. And once the funds in escrow run out testing stops until they're either replaced.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hmm...

            anyone testing on public roads should put up money in escrow to cover injuries.

            And what amount of money would cover the injury suffered by someone killed by one of those vehicles? Monetary compensation is only relevant for things that can be compensated for - which doesn't include death.

            1. Dave 15 Silver badge

              Re: Hmm...

              So if you step out in front of an autonomous vehicle you expect the software and sensor systems to be somehow aaware of your stupid intention? You dont expect that of a normal driver, you expect to get run over and killed - which is why you bother to look.

              As to the occasional driving into a brick wall or whatever again as a normal driver these things will happen when the road surface is sliperry, visibility impaired (maybe by dirt on your windscreen) or a technical malfunction of the car (brake locking on, tyre exploding, steering joint giving way... though the MOT test is supposed to help detect early warnings of failures it doesn't always)

              The real real question then becomes do I expect the software that is interpreting the sensors to be right more or less often than a driver...

              Personally at the moment I expect it will be right rather less often than the human but we will eventually fix some of those issues and sort out the cameras and other sensors so they are less easy to obscure or 'break' than currently.

            2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Hmm...

              "Monetary compensation is only relevant for things that can be compensated for - which doesn't include death."

              So it would be OK by you if, as a result of some big corporation's conducting experiments on the travelling public, someone gets killed and their family is put out of house and home because they can no longer pay their mortgage or rent.

          2. codejunky Silver badge

            Re: Hmm...

            @ Doctor Syntax

            "Not so good for those who become collateral damage of the testing process."

            What collateral damage? Are you suggesting the law doesnt exist any more because regulations hitting a very specific industry havnt been made? The existing general laws already in existence dont suddenly vanish or cease to be because the government isnt micromanaging a new technology. Those general laws exist for a reason, so only special and specific problems need additional regulation.

            "It should not be necessary for anyone injured or has property damaged or the family of anyone killed to have to sue for compensation"

            So we should abandon the rule of law to make an industry stumping regulation for shits and giggles? Why? The purpose of suing for compensation is the law of the land, that it exists for this scenario that you state which is already covered in day to day legal protections for everyone.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Hmm...

              "What collateral damage?"

              Those innocent bystanders who are the victims of testing a new technology on the public.

              "So we should abandon the rule of law to make an industry stumping regulation for shits and giggles? Why?"

              So we should allow technology to be tested on the public and if it goes wrong it's up to the public to hope they can pay a lawyer more than a big corporation? Why? In your own words, for shits and giggles? Or is it simply that in your view the little people don't matter?

              1. codejunky Silver badge

                Re: Hmm...

                @ Doctor Syntax

                "Those innocent bystanders who are the victims of testing a new technology on the public."

                Which is no more collateral damage than comes under current law. The point being that the law already covers this without additional regulation. What you suggest is that the law is not enough and so special regulation must be applied to restrict this technology further.

                "So we should allow technology to be tested on the public"

                Yes. How do you think we have technology? How do you think you have electricity that you need to run the computer you are writing on? Or the many other advancements to bring you the technology you have every day? If you think this was done without the public trying it out and kinks being worked out along the way then your cotton wool world is only in your head.

                "and if it goes wrong it's up to the public to hope they can pay a lawyer more than a big corporation?"

                Are you arguing against rule of law by making that amusing sentence? Liability has already been established which is the important part, which means a car crashing into a house or hitting a person is already dealt with by law- https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/02/24/new_uk_law_driverless_cars_insurance_liability/

                You are suggesting the law isnt enough and firms should have some cash stashed in escrow (how much? How badly do you not want innovation and technology in this country?) to compensate 'victims' and 'collateral damage' which I assume will still require judgement by law? Or are you suggesting throwing out the justice system for automatic assumption of guilt against automated vehicles? If not then the current rule of law applies and is good enough.

                "Or is it simply that in your view the little people don't matter?"

                I am not the one arguing against the rule of law which is to protect from the very situations you mentioned. Have a read of this- http://www.continentaltelegraph.com/2018/03/04/the-wrong-brothers/

        2. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: Hmm...

          If others regulate it out of existence that is good news for us as the industry will find it cheaper to do it here and we take the lead on the technology.

          And now you want to sell your technology, and the vehicles made with it, outside the UK. Where the stuff is regulated out of existence, per your own words.

          1. codejunky Silver badge

            Re: Hmm...

            @ Stoneshop

            "And now you want to sell your technology, and the vehicles made with it, outside the UK. Where the stuff is regulated out of existence, per your own words."

            Read Dr Syntax. R&D becomes more expensive because the law of the land is no longer good enough for meddlers and so the cost of development goes up here because we are that dumb. That doesnt mean a car sufficiently developed or completely developed cant be bought here, only that the actual work into new and exciting technology, industry, product and service gets stumped here. We lose out of the benefit of being creators of the technology and end up importing from places that welcome innovation.

            Of course then people will start crying that the monopolies have us by the hairy ones, that we import all our auto-cars because we cant develop them here and we find ourselves behind. All because someone wants to add additional regulation for fun or boredom.

      2. Teiwaz

        Re: Hmm...

        Perhaps it's the "informed" bit that's causing difficulties.

        Not informed is better than the usual 'ill-informed'.

        They're 'champing at the bit' for auntanamous self-driving vehicles so they can get them to report the movements of everyone in the country to GCHQ, to help stop 'whatever lame excuse that might appease public' and give them permission.

  3. TonyJ Silver badge
    Joke

    That's madness

    Come on Suggs....I've been driving in my car...

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: That's madness

      Hopefully not in Our House

      1. Teiwaz
        Joke

        Re: That's madness

        You need to register for 'House of Fun' - show those IDs

        1. GIRZiM
          Joke

          Re: That's madness

          If the current state of play is anything to go by, the thought of getting into a Tesla leaves my trousers considerably baggier than were previously.

  4. tiggity Silver badge

    kicking into the long grass

    Actually makes sense in this case

    As despite the self driving car evangelists, a Level 5 self drive car (whats the point of anything less), that can cope with UK roads at least as safely as a good human driver is (sadly*) a long way off.

    * A shame as I could then go out for a meal somewhere not served by public transport and have an alcoholic drink with it if my car could drive me back when I was over the limit, as it is juts avoid the restaurants not public transport friendly as taxi fares in my locality are extortionate

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "new laws forcing petrol station operators to install hydrogen fuel pumps."

    Nasty stuff to keep where it should be, hydrogen. Wait for the backlash the first time one of these goes up.

    1. Paul 195

      @Doctor syntax

      On that basis, we wouldn't allow anyone to store thousands of gallons of petrol in busy urban centres either.

      That's even nastier stuff when it goes up.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        But a large tank of LIQUID, normally underground, and which does not explode easily is a different matter to a gas that has to be stored in a VERY high pressure vessel (through which it will leak). Perhaps you've never seen a demonstration of just how slow the flame propagation is with a large petrol fire - like you see in the films, pour some petrol out, throw in the match, and you can watch the flame front progressing along the layer of liquid.

        In any case, hydrogen is a very very poor choice of energy transport for a mobile fuel use due to it's low power/weight ration (especially considering the weight of the pressure vessel needed) - there are much better. It's absolutely anything but green since most of it comes from steam cracking of hydrocarbons with copious CO2 generation !

        And electric charging points aren't going to be very useful. They will either be very slow (and hence not very useful), or very expensive to install due to the supply upgrade that will typically be needed. And the government still hasn't said how it intends to keep the lights on as it is, without adding even more load to the grid.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          " Perhaps you've never seen a demonstration of just how slow the flame propagation is with a large petrol fire - like you see in the films, pour some petrol out, throw in the match, and you can watch the flame front progressing along the layer of liquid. "

          But throw the match into a half empty container of petrol and watch the flame front propagate a lot faster????

          1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

            But throw the match into a half empty container of petrol and watch the flame front propagate a lot faster????

            Provided the container has restricted ventilation, then the match will just go out - mixture too rich to burn. When a filling station closes, it is NOT allowed to empty the storage tanks, they must leave some fuel in to ensure the mixture stays rich. Then they have to pay eye watering amounts for a specialist contractor to clean the tanks and either remove them or fill them with concrete - I had a conversation with someone not long ago, and they told me that the difference between two quotes (not the quotes, just the different between them) was over £30k !

        2. veti Silver badge

          And electric charging points aren't going to be very useful. They will either be very slow (and hence not very useful), or very expensive to install due to the supply upgrade that will typically be needed.

          The "supply upgrade" would indeed be fairly expensive if you were installing it in your house. But there's no need for fast charging there, you can take hours to do it.

          If you're installing it in a place like a motorway service station, or even a mid-sized petrol station - then this "very expensive" upgrade would probably be comparable with the cost of your EFTPOS equipment. Not quite "negligible", but certainly not something to choke on.

          "Keeping the lights on" is a separate question, this is really not the time or place for that discussion.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "On that basis, we wouldn't allow anyone to store thousands of gallons of petrol in busy urban centres either."

        I think you missed the point about containment.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Nasty stuff to keep where it should be, hydrogen.

      But how can I refill my Hindenburg II when its buoyancy gets low?

    3. Fungus Bob
      Facepalm

      Re: "new laws forcing petrol station operators to install hydrogen fuel pumps."

      More like backlash from fuel station operators wanting to know how, exactly, they are supposed to install things that are fictional.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "new laws forcing petrol station operators to install hydrogen fuel pumps."

        Maybe just install a box with an impressive-looking nozzle with clamps clearly designed by a Hollywood SFX director for ultra-high pressure operation,with copious safety warnings. And then apologise for it being out of order when (if ever) someone tried to use it.

        1. GIRZiM

          Re: "new laws forcing petrol station operators to install hydrogen fuel pumps."

          So, my idea of separating O2 and H1 from water, resulting in an overabundance of O2 in the atmosphere, rendering the outdoors highly flammable and resulting in a legal requirement for every man, woman and child over the age of 14 to smoke twenty cigarettes a day in a government CO production centre so that the carbon monoxide can be pumped out into the atmosphere to mop up the extra O2 won't happen then?

          Damn - I was sure I'd got a government funded programme and directorship of a QUANGO in the bag there.

          Back to the drawing board *sigh*

    4. GruntyMcPugh

      re: 'new laws forcing',..

      ... my problem there is the law 'forcing' a free market supplier of petrol to support the electric car. Petrol stations are designed to be drive through, as filling up takes minutes, whereas charging at the moment takes a lot longer. It simply doesn't fit. My local supermarket has a petrol station, and a totally separate area for charging EVs, I presume the Supermarket charge for that service, so 'forcing' the market is insane, the market is open for investment by real estate owners. The paradigm has shifted, let's not try to forcibly shift it back, to keep petrol stations in the revenue loop.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: re: 'new laws forcing',..

        Maybe just install a box with an impressive-looking nozzle with clamps clearly designed by a Hollywood SFX director for ultra-high pressure operation,with copious safety warnings. And then apologise for it being out of order when (if ever) someone tried to use it.

        No need. Just design the plug so that it doesn't fit anything, and then blame the user for not having a compatible device.

  6. MR J

    Freedom.

    Guess they are going to wait until the EU rules come out as those will be required for us too.

    Oh Wait.....

    Independent - But only when you want to be.

  7. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Translated meaning

    "We don't know what to do and there's nobody to copy from yet."

  8. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Greatly missed opportunity.

    5 years ago was the time to start planning the open interfaces these vehicles will need to communicate with traffic control centres, each other and indeed other road users.

    Can you imagine the problems that will arise when twenty different vehicle manufacturers arrive with their own systems and a cyclist is forced to pay for an iCar avoidance system before using a bit of road Apple has bribed some town council for test purposes. Or BMW demand a right to overtake and cut in when they feel like it. Or Uber thinking its OK to switch off most of the lidar because they are too keen to get rid of drivers asap.

    The potential benefits of driverless vehicles is massive if they can be forced to co-operate with each other and other road users from day one for the benefit of all and not just whoever turns up first with a half cocked system and enough backing to buy a monopoly of something.

    The government (and many others) will be on the back foot and end up providing well sub optimal interface protocols because they will be bullied into it and have no f'ing idea of the shit they will be dumping on us.

    1. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: Greatly missed opportunity.

      First, there are already specs on the communications... not complete but at least started

      Second, I can't see most pedestrians of cyclists having comms gadgets on them so they can politely ask the great big autonomous lorry not to run over them (or perhaps to allow the cyclist to 'convoy' in the slipstream

      Third, I have a suspicion that my 1923 Austin 7 is unlikely to have the battery of senors, the control / comms box or even a 12v supply to run them ever :)

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Greatly missed opportunity.

      "Or BMW demand a right to overtake and cut in when they feel like it."

      I thought you were dealing with future problems.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Admitting abdication of their responsibilities

    As if to display their ignorance and poor judgment, Blighty is failing to mandate proper minimum safety, security, design, engineering, construction, maintenance and operation of autonomous and electric vehicles. How many people must die before there is a knee-jerk reaction and then hastily half-assed rules will be imposed?

    The judicial system must also decide who will be held accountable for injuries, deaths and property damage as insurance companies are refusing to insure these vehicles. Programmers must decide who will die in an unavoidable collision. Yet no government has imposed any minimum safety or other mandates on the AV and EV industries despite the recent fatalities in the U.S. by Uber and a Tesla model X operated in "autopilot" mode. At the moment the prior Tesla model S fatalities from "autopilot" use are in litigation.

    1. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: Admitting abdication of their responsibilities

      I agree a kneejerk and stupid reaction is likely

      However I would hasten to question what can be done to ensure the nirvana of accident free autonomous vehicles. Basically I think nothing. Sensors will break - or worse malfunction especially in hostile environments with heat, cold, thrown mud, water, snow and deliberate messing from kids and unpleasant adults. Software will get more and more complex in order to try and avoid problems and will therefore become untestable, slower, less stable and worse (just look at windows 10, a real crock of the proverbial manure). That is before we start worrying about the nasties like viruses and the likes

  10. Dave 15 Silver badge

    Still banging the electric drum are they?

    When will people realise that electric is poor as an energy source for vehicles? Difficult to store, batteries are often explosive in accidents, high fire risk (see the burnt out remains of the broken teslas) and very environmentally hostile to create. Then add in the huge time taken to recharge and limited ranges and realise hundreds of times as many charge points are required then petrol pumps.

    No, need to think again ... steam is a good storage medium, fireless steam is simple and very well understood technology

  11. earl grey
    Facepalm

    This is the best part

    "A UK ban on all sales of normal road vehicles has previously been announced. It will take effect in 2040"

    So normal vehicles will just vanish and you'll get around by ???? Flying?

    1. GIRZiM

      Re: This is the best part

      Elon Musk will have announced his plans to develop teleportation by then, fret not.

  12. Strangelove

    Ban only on new models after 2040

    Under the current plans, it is not that existing cars, even ones from 1923, will suddenly be illegal on the road, but that all new cars from that date cannot be internal combustion engined.

    As regards charging, I think there is a big under-estimation of the energy needed, its not the cost of the charge point at the motorway services, though that will be bad - I went through a large one the other day and in a moment of boredom, counted, 12 pumps, all busy and a change of car on each average every 4 minutes, so 15 cars per hour, per pump, so 180 cars per hour. Not very scientific, but lets say each of those would take equivalent to half a tank on average - your Tesla has a 60kWh battery, so say each car needed 30kWh of charge, that's 5400 kilo-watts of additional supply.

    ( that is five to ten times the transformer at the end of the cul-de sac supplying a typical housing estate in the UK.) Certainly possible, but expensive. But how many motorway services and similar fuelling stations would we need ? perhaps some hundreds to cover the country ? So we need a few gigawatts of extra generation and transmission. Possible, certainly, but not without co-ordinated effort, and investment, both so far conspicuously absent.

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