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Infrastructure is central to UK growth and investment in connected and autonomous vehicles, says expert

FOCUS: Recent infrastructure funding announcements made by the UK government can help the UK market for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) to grow.08 Dec 2016

To encourage the mainstream adoption and success of CAVs, the UK's 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.

There is a general acknowledgement in the industry that there needs to be cross-sector collaboration as well as between public and private sectors if we are to meet this challenge.

The government appears to be listening. 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, UK chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £390m package of funding for electric cars and autonomous vehicles, of which £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.

Hammond also announced plans to invest £740 million in a new programme of '5G' trials. 5G is likely to be one of the central 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.

Recently, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) 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.

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.

Reg Dhanjal is an expert in telecoms and IT law at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. A version of this article was previously published by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).