Britain’s decision to quit the EU could help put Britain in pole position in developing self-driving cars that rely on internet connectivity to pilot themselves.
The UK is already at an advantage over most of Europe in researching autonomous vehicles because it never ratified the Vienna Convention, which requires “every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle”.
Now with the vote to split from the EU, that lead could be increased with Britain unfettered by European red tape, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the society, said: “Britain is already perceived as an attractive test-bed for technologies; Brexit may make it more attractive.”
He noted that internet connections to allow autonomous cars to communicate with each other so they can avoid crashes can generate privacy issues for drivers.
However, the UK has a more liberal attitude to this subject than much of Europe, meaning that legal issues around testing self-driving cars are likely to be less complicated in this country.
The Government has prioritised Britain becoming a world leader in self-driving cars, laying out its plans in the Queen’s Speech, and a study commissioned by the SMMT valued autonomous and connected vehicles at £51bn a year to the economy by 2030 if the UK dominates the technology.
Other advantages in Britain’s favour include London being the only “megacity” in Europe, with a population approaching 10 million, making it the region’s best testing ground for the self-driving cars. Volvo has already said it will trial its self driving cars in the capital.
Mr Hawes added: “This is an incredibly competitive area; so many cities and countries want to be the test-bed for this next generation technology which could potentially transform the industry – the UK has to set out its stall. We have regulatory framework which makes it easier to do such things.”
However, leaving the EU also pose a risk to Britain’s car industry – which saw the number of vehicles rolling off production lines hit a 16-year high in the first six months of 2016. British factories built 897,157 cars over the period, a 13pc increase on a year ago.
Of these, 77.8pc were exported, with half of the cars going abroad headed for European markets, meaning that securing a deal on foreign sales is vital.
The SMMT set out its “red lines” for Brexit, calling on government to make a priority of negotiating a deal where the UK’s £71.6bn-a-year car industry will not face trade tariffs on exports or customs barriers as result of leaving the EU.The industry body also wants car makers to remain able to recruit staff from abroad to counter skills shortages, and is calling for continued co-operation with European nations on setting regulatory standards which UK car makers will have to meet to sell into the trading bloc.
“The car industry is incredibly competitive and operates on wafer-thin margins,” Mr Hawes said. “We need to maintain that competitiveness globally to ensure continued success.”