UK in pole position for autonomous vehicle development

At a roundtable dinner organised by ICE in September we discussed the infrastructure challenges that the development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) bring.

CAVs: needs to be cross-sector collaboration as well as between public and private sectors to develop connectivity infrastructure
CAVs: needs to be cross-sector collaboration as well as between public and private sectors to develop connectivity infrastructure
  • Updated: 06 December 2016
  • Author: Reg Dhanjal, TMT, Pinsent Masons

Public awareness of CAVs is increasing albeit at a slow pace. In recent times the focus of media attention has been the tragic high profile crashes involving driverless cars rather than the future benefits that this new generation of cars will bring and this has not helped public perception.

Those promoting this new generation of vehicles are quick to point out those benefits - that CAVs have the potential to provide a safer and more efficient form of transport, reduce the environmental impact of vehicles and change the way we own cars. They could also give us the opportunity to use road space more efficiently and redesign our public spaces making them more people friendly.

Infrastructure issues need collaboration

However, in order for the mainstream adoption and success of CAVs our infrastructure will have to be upgraded to deal with the challenging demands made by these vehicles. Over the next few years there will need to be significant investment in not only the road infrastructure but also the connectivity infrastructure that underpins CAVs.

The general feeling at our roundtable dinner was that there needs to be cross-sector collaboration as well as between public and private sectors if we are to meet this challenge.

Government appears to be listening and a number of initiatives have recently been announced that show a commitment by the public sector to the roll-out of this technology and infrastructure in the UK.

In this year's Autumn Statement, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced a £390m package of funding for electric cars and autonomous vehicles. £80m will support charging infrastructure and £100m will go to new UK testing sites for CAVs.

This investment is in addition to the £100m investment for testing CAVs introduced by the previous chancellor in 2015. Significant tax breaks will also be given to those companies investing in charging points.

5G a key connectivity component

Philip Hammond also announced plans to invest £740 million in a new programme of 5G trials. 5G is likely to be one of the key connectivity solutions that will deliver the low latency and high speeds that autonomous vehicles will rely upon and this investment will help the UK lead the way in the development of that technology.

These announcements follow Highways England's announcement earlier this year that it would fund a new ‘connected corridor’ of roads in the south east. It has committed to work in partnership with government and industry to prepare the road network for the vehicles of the future.

And last week Jaguar Land Rover said that future electric vehicles could be built in the Midlands provided that government invests in infrastructure in the region that makes it favourable for a new electric vehicle manufacturing facility to be established. It has been reported that JLR is looking for the government to invest £450m. This planned expansion could create up to 10,000 jobs and many more in the supply chain.

Government initiatives give investment boost

A combination of government initiatives such as these and the UK's light-touch regulatory approach to the testing of autonomous vehicles on UK roads puts the UK in a strong position to attract investment and testing in core infrastructure for CAVs.

The legacy of this will be an innovative and connected road network which boasts improved safety, traffic management and user satisfaction.

Read a summary of the key issues raised at the Autonomous vehicles – driving all our futures? dinner.

About the author

Reg Dhanjal is a Partner at Pinsent Masons who specialises in all aspects of telecoms and IT law matters. His experience includes advising on large scale telecoms and IT infrastructure arrangements for both suppliers and customers and advising companies on issues relating to connected and autonomous vehicles and smart technology.

About the Pinsent Masons' Automotive team

Our Automotive Team, operating out of hubs in Munich, Paris, Shanghai and the British Midlands have advised clients on the legal solutions required for original equipment and parts manufacturers, IT and telecom suppliers operating in an increasingly global market. The team has extensive expertise advising clients on their contractual arrangements, the procurement of software and hardware solutions, content for applications and on distribution schemes, regulatory issues against the background of telecoms and data protection laws as well as giving operational support regarding risk management, compliance and intellectual property.