When will driverless cars be on UK roads?

Autonomous vehicles are no longer space age fantasy. Insurers need to look at the opportunities and implications that technology is bringing now to reflect them in our underwriting and pricing models

According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, the government wants “fully driverless cars”, with no safety attendant on board, to be in use on British roads by 2021. That’s less than three years away.


Fortunately for the past three years, RSA has been the only insurance partner working on the GATEway project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment), a world-leading research programme funded by government and industry which completed in March this year.

The project's aim was to understand how automated vehicles might help to address the future transportation needs of our cities and the barriers that need to be overcome before these vehicles become a reality on Britain’s roads.

Published today (16 July 2018), our report Autonomy and Motor Insurance—what happens next? captures what we, RSA, have from our involvement in the project. The report not only considers the role of the insurance industry as it looks to embrace technological change, but also looks ahead at what the world will start to look like when car accidents are no longer happening due to human error.




Autonomy and Motor Insurance – what happens next?

The state of our roads today

There are over 31 million vehicles on Britain’s roads today, but according to the Department for Transport around 26,000 people were killed or seriously injured on the roads last year.

93% of those deaths are attributed to human error, which could be significantly reduced by automated driving technologies that have the potential to reduce incidences of traffic accidents and violations by eliminating driver error.

Driverless cars—often referred to as autonomous vehicles or AVs—are regarded by many as a major landmark in making our roads safer whilst continuing to improve mobility and productivity.

Unlike humans, driverless cars won’t speed, or run a red light; they won’t get distracted, fall asleep, get road rage and they will be far less likely to be involved in an accident. Vehicle reaction times will be quicker than any person and they will be able to connect directly with other road users and infrastructure in real time.

At their best, autonomous vehicles will make journeys smoother, safer and be more energy efficient, whilst eliminating speeding, drink driving and prangs and crashes.

GATEway driverless car being takes a drive around North Greenwich as part of a trial to see how the general public reacts. Play video
Take a ride in London's first driverless car

Autonomous vehicles may be closer than you think

This is no longer a space age fantasy. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that help to avoid crashes and mitigate accidents are already present in many vehicles and the range of available ADAS is growing fast.

Just before we published this report we asked for an independent survey of 10,000 drivers to see what the average motorist thought about driverless cars. Whilst nearly six in ten drivers were excited about the development of AVs, over a quarter expressed concern about driverless cars being hacked and vulnerable to crashing. 

It is clear from our survey that drivers have not yet fully made the connection that when we remove human error from the driving equation, roads will be safer with significantly less accidents, deaths, injuries, car damage and claims.

Still time to get up to speed

The good news is that there is still plenty of time for car manufacturers, the insurance industry, government and the media to fully educate drivers and consumers about the advantages of a new technology that will literally save millions of lives whilst making our roads safer for all road users.  

As an industry, we need to be looking now at the opportunities and implications that technology is bringing and how we can absorb these changes and reflect them into our underwriting, and pricing, something we discussed in an interview with InsTech.

The ultimate challenge for the insurance industry is to understand and respond to such disruptions; protecting and supporting consumers and businesses on the journey. RSA, with over 300 years of experience successfully responding to the way our world is changing, is well equipped to do this.