Speaking at a conference in Milton Keynes last week (25 May), the roads minister Andrew Jones said “driverless cars are coming, and sooner than many people expect”.
Mr Jones told delegates at the conference that the Government believes that “within four years it will be possible to buy cars that, under supervision, park on their own and pilot themselves on motorways”.
He described autonomous vehicles as “a great step forward in automotive history” with the potential to “add significantly to quality of life and human freedom”.
On the subject of insurance, Mr Jones said the Government’s new legislation, announced in the recent Queen’s Speech, will “create space for insurers to innovate and meet the needs of a radically different market”.
He described human-navigated cars as a “stepping stone to the car’s ultimate form”, adding that “eventually, there will be virtually nothing left for the motorist to do”.
Mr Jones said: “Those who can’t currently drive will gain the chance to take to the open road (and) that could transform the lives of many older people.
“Those of us who are already motorists will gain free time on our journeys to do other things; to work, read, watch television or socialise with our fellow passengers.
“After dropping us at our destination, our cars may well be able to return home on their own, to charge themselves, or perhaps make themselves available for other users.
“And all this should make travelling far safer.
“More than nine in 10 of today’s road fatalities have an element of human error. The great hope for driverless cars is that they can eliminate those deaths (and) transform road safety in our country.
“These advances might sound like science fiction, but the early models are already in testing."
Turning his attention to the insurance issues, he said there has been “a lot of speculation about what the advent of the driverless car means for the insurance industry”.
Mr Jones added: “Some of the more excitable commentators have said that driverless cars will make motor insurance unnecessary.
“I believe that is pie in the sky – at least for the moment. But what does seem certain is that insurance will need to change.
“Firstly, much of the data on which insurance is priced and sold will steadily become obsolete.
“Secondly, vast quantities of new kinds of data will become available, assessing not individual driver risk but vehicle behaviour and other factors.
“And thirdly, in the event of a serious collision when in driverless mode, it would be the vehicle at fault, instead of the human driver.
“In the legislation we will propose, we want to create space for the industry to lead these changes.
“Compulsory motor insurance will be retained, but it will be extended to cover product liability, so that when a motorist has handed control to their vehicle, they can be reassured that their insurance will be there if anything goes wrong.
“Where the vehicle is at fault then the insurer will be able to seek reimbursement from the manufacturer.
“The vital point is that, for affected individuals, the insurance process will feel much the same. Motorists and victims of collisions won’t be forced to go to court to obtain compensation.
“We will consult on these changes over the summer, and we expect them to become law in time for applicable vehicles to come onto the market.”
Click here to read the full transcript of Mr Jones’ speech.