The government will set out a framework over how self-driving cars can be used on UK roads

By James Cowen

In a world where artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming ever more popular, it was perhaps inevitable that such technology would drive conversations over how it could be used to create autonomous vehicles.


James Cowen

The bad news for the insurance industry was that while such inventions were always on the cards, the topic of self-driving cars created more questions than answers.

For example, as the UK government continued its push towards facilitating automated driving, there were concerns over how the sector would comprehend regulations and rules that would allow autonomous vehicles to operate on roads.

And perhaps more pressingly, there were questions as to where accountability would lie in the event of an insured making a motor claim following a collision.

The good news for the sector is that the government seems to have alleviated most of the industry’s concerns with the announcement of a new bill in the King’s Speech earlier this week (7 November 2023).

Key answers

The Automated Vehicles Bill has been designed provide the private sector with the certainty and confidence it needs to research and develop the technology.

As for the insurance industry, there are two key elements of the bill – the first being that it will create a framework to deliver a comprehensive set of laws that have “safety at its core”.

And the second is that it will provide clarity over how liability will be established should a self-driving vehicle be involved in an accident.

For example, non-driving responsibilities will still remain with the individual, such as maintaining appropriate insurance.

However, when a vehicle is driving itself, a company – most likely the manufacturer of said self-driving vehicle – rather than an individual will be responsible for the way it drives.

Such a clarification is welcome news to insurers, given that it sets out a clearer path for how the claims process will be carried out in the event of a collision.

The establishment of a new framework is also welcome because it will set out clear guidance as to what the threshold will be for self-driving cars to operate on the road.

For example, the law will state that “only vehicles that can drive themselves safely and can follow all road traffic rules without the need for a human to monitor or control the vehicle to maintain that level of safety will be classified as self-driving and allowed on the roads”.

“The Department for Transport and its agencies will be given new powers to authorise these vehicles and ensure in-use compliance with the safety standards that we will set,” the government added.


However, while the bill answers some key questions for insurers, others still remain – including what will happen around data access in the event of an incident.

Such a topic is vital, given that data will help insurers and police determine where liability lies in the event of a crash.

And Alexandra Wyard, underwriting director at Allianz Personal, felt that swift delivery of unbiased information following an incident was “crucial” to insurers, law enforcement and the road users they work on behalf of.

“Ultimately, how data is accessed and used needs to be open and transparent and drivers need to feel confident with how their data is being managed,” she added.

Therefore, while the government is keen to update laws to accommodate the potential benefits of self-driving technologies, it is clear that more collaboration with the insurance industry is needed to ensure that final key questions are fully answered before progress with the bill can be made.

However, following the King’s Speech, insurers can feel more confident about self-driving cars, which is vital given that it is only a matter of time before the necessity of insuring such vehicles becomes a reality.