What is the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill?

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill (formerly known as the Modern Transport Bill) was published recently and received its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 6th March 2017. It contains a specific section on the insurance framework for automated vehicles and the key elements to highlight are:

  • Single insurer model;
  • Strict liability (effectively) on insurer to pay in first instance;
  • Rights of recovery under existing legislation i.e. contributory negligence and products liability;
  • Onus on owner to complete software updates and not to use the vehicle in a manner it was not intended for.

What does that mean in practice? Well, it provides a welcome retention of the status quo. In essence, what has been proposed is a recognisable, simple model of insurance that keeps people’s safety at its core. That can only be a good thing.

Secondly, it does not impose unrealistic levels of liability on OEMs and other third parties. By limiting the rights of recovery to existing laws the environment for innovation remains an attractive one. After all, everyone involved in projects like VENTURER recognises the potential positive impact this technology could have on society which is far broader than the interests of any one company in the consortium.

The UK Government has made it clear that it wants this country to be at the forefront of driverless technology. The difficulty it faces is balancing the need for appropriate legislation without stifling the fantastic R&D that is taking place in this ever evolving field. As we progress there will, of course, be other areas to address such as data sharing and cyber security for example, but happily the Bill is flexible enough to let that happen as and when is necessary. This is the first step.

As the debate noted yesterday, this is a relatively uncontroversial Bill and as a consequence is likely to progress fairly smoothly through Parliament. As and when it becomes law, the fundamental reason for mandatory motor insurance will have been retained – namely that road users and pedestrians are protected in the event of accidents.

What we have, then, in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is a workable framework that will help bring automated vehicles to our roads. There remain understandable questions about public trust, the decision making algorithms and others but all the research, evidence and opinion so far suggests that these vehicles have the capacity to make our roads much, much safer which is why the UK Government, Insurers, technology companies and everyone else involved are all pulling in the same direction.


By Daniel O’Byrne, AXA UK