UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Professor Jack Stilgoe advises Government on responsible innovation in self-driving vehicles

23 September 2022

Professor Jack Stilgoe (UCL Science & Technology Studies) and Professor John McDermid (University of York) advised the Government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation report on Responsible Innovation in Self-Driving Vehicles.

Screenshot of Professor Jack Stilgoe on BBC News

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) is an independent advisory body set up and tasked by the UK Government to investigate and advise on how we maximise the benefits of new technologies, including Self Driving Vehicles (SDVs).

As part of the report’s findings, SDVs were recognised to “offer the opportunity to deliver significant improvements to road safety and efficiency by reducing driver error, can improve accessibility by enhancing mobility for people unable to drive, and have the potential to reduce emissions.” However, to enable these benefits, there needs to be clarity in regulation and the public’s confidence in SDVs. 

Expert advisers discussed the questions of safety, privacy, transparency, public engagement and more within the Responsible Innovation in Self-Driving Vehicles report which also proposes how current legal and regulatory systems that rely on holding licensed human drivers accountable can be updated to apply to SDVs.

“How safe is safe enough? That's not something engineers can answer. It's a democratic question. Even if SDVs bring massive safety improvements, they'll redistribute risk. Average improvements in safety will not necessarily reassure those involved in SDV incidents,” Professor Jack Stilgoe summarised.

According to the experts, fairness and bias also need careful thought. SDVs may provide safety benefits by discriminating according to protected characteristics (e.g., adults vs children; wheelchair users), but doing so jeopardises rights. 

In the report, they make recommendations about social research and public dialogue. A survey of UK public attitudes conducted as part of Jack Stilgoe’s ESRC-funded Driverless Futures? project provides some early insights, but, according to the authors, there is a lot we do not know about public views on the questions revolving around SDVs. 

The report also makes recommendations about public trials, noting that testing technology in public raises questions of informed consent and labelling. 

The report had a huge interest among the press. Professor Jack Stilgoe appeared on BBC News, the Today programme, alongside Professor Paul Newman from self-driving company Oxbotica, and local radio stations (BBC Oxford, Wiltshire, Cambridgeshire, Newcastle, Northampton, Stoke and Sheffield).

Informed by the CDEI report, the Government will be creating legislation for SDVs over the next year.



    • Screenshot of Professor Jack Stilgoe on BBC News