The person in the driving seat of a self-driving vehicle would no longer be held responsible for accidents and infringements under law reforms proposed.
The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission (the Law Commissions) have published their joint report, making recommendations for ‘the safe and responsible introduction of self-driving vehicles’.
The report recommends introducing a new Automated Vehicles Act, to regulate vehicles that can drive themselves. It recommends drawing a clear distinction between features which just assist drivers, such as adaptive cruise control, and those that are self-driving.
Under the Law Commissions’ proposals, when a car is authorised by a regulatory agency as having “self-driving features” and those features are in-use, the person in the driving seat would no longer be responsible for how the car drives. Instead, the company or body that obtained the authorisation (an Authorised Self-Driving Entity) would face regulatory sanctions if anything goes wrong.
Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner said:“We have an unprecedented opportunity to promote public acceptance of automated vehicles with our recommendations on safety assurance and clarify legal liability. We can also make sure accessibility, especially for older and disabled people, is prioritised from the outset.”
David Bartos, Scottish Law Commissioner said:“How should the law deal with self-driving technologies? Our joint report with the Law Commission sets out new laws for allowing automated vehicles on our roads, ensuring safety and accountability while encouraging innovation and development.”
Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said: “The development of self-driving vehicles in the UK has the potential to revolutionise travel, making every day journeys safer, easier and greener.
“This Government has been encouraging development and deployment of these technologies to understand their benefits. However, we must ensure we have the right regulations in place, based upon safety and accountability, in order to build public confidence.
“That’s why the Department funded this independent report and I look forward to fully considering the recommendations and responding in due course.”
Many driver assistance features are currently available to help a human driver. The report anticipates that, in future, these features will develop to a point where an automated vehicle will be able to drive itself for at least part of a journey, without a human paying attention to the road. For example, a car may be able to drive itself on a motorway, or a shuttle bus may be able to navigate a particular route.
Once a vehicle is authorised by a regulatory agency as having self-driving features, and a self-driving feature is engaged, the Law Commissions recommend a new system of legal accountability. Under it:
The person in the driving seat would no longer be a driver but a “user-in-charge”.
A user-in-charge cannot be prosecuted for offences which arise directly from the driving task.
They would have immunity from a wide range of offences – from dangerous driving to exceeding the speed limit or running a red light. However, the user-in-charge would retain other driver duties, such as carrying insurance, checking loads or ensuring that children wear seat belts.