The New Year is only a few days old but already there are strong indicators that 2022 will be the year of the car: the ‘driverless’ car and the electric car.
The imminent launch of driverless cars on roads in Milton Keynes has been widely reported in the last few days. It is noteworthy that the CEO of the tech company involved described the trial scheme as “driverless but not autonomous." Even so, it is likely that this year we will see significant development of the law governing autonomous driving on roads in the UK. For a start, the Law Commission is due to publish its final, consolidated report on the subject in the coming weeks. We expect to see it make recommendations for new legislation which could form a key theme of the Queen’s Speech later in the spring. A second project which will be taken forward this year is the DfT’s proposed authorising of ALKS - automated lane keeping systems - initially at moderate speeds and on defined motorways only.
Further emphasis of the importance of these matters can be found in a Downing Street press release issued on 31 December, marking the anniversary of the UK/EU Trade & Co-operation Agreement, that talks of “enhancing Britain’s potential as a world leader in the Future of Transport, including autonomous maritime vessels, self-driving cars and drones and modernising outdated vehicle standards”. That last phrase is one of a suite of topics addressed by the DfT’s Future of Transport regulatory review, on which consultation closed in November. It is almost certain that the progress of the review will be closely linked to the Law Commission’s outputs.
Data from SMMT (The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) shows that during the latter part of 2021, monthly sales of electric vehicles (EVs) overtook sales of diesel cars. Battery driven EVs accounted for around 12% of new car sales in 2021 year and more were registered last year than in 2016 to 2020 combined. Projections are that 2022 will be the first calendar year that annual sales of EVs - which are likely to reach 260,000 - will outstrip those of diesel cars (sales of which dropped by nearly 50% last year).
It is beyond trite to say that new technology brings new risks - of course it does. But 2022 looks to be a formative year in defining the social, legal and financial risks associated with AVs arriving on our roads and with the ever-greater penetration of EVs in the market. Insurers have an important role in developing innovative products that match the demand for these new technologies and understanding the fine detail of the new legal regimes will be critical to that. We’ll be very closely involved throughout 2022 in the activity flowing from the DfT’s and the Law Commission’s reviews and will provide written and in-person briefings as those projects move forward.