Self-driving car users shouldn’t be held responsible ‘if something goes wrong’, new report suggests


The new proposals suggest that someone behind the wheel of a self-driving car should not be held legally responsible in the event of a collision.

A joint report by legal review bodies recommended that a clear distinction be made between features that help drivers, such as cruise control, and those that define an autonomous vehicle.

The Law Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission have called for legal reforms that would make the driver of a self-driving car immune from prosecution “if something goes wrong”, such as speeding or running a red light.

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Under the new plan, it suggests that the company or body that got the technology cleared would face sanctions.

Meanwhile, whoever’s in the driver’s seat will still be responsible for other tasks, like getting insurance, checking loads and making sure child passengers are wearing seat belts.

The Law Commissions also recommended that passenger services taken by self-driving cars be accessible, primarily to the elderly and disabled.

Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner, said Britain has an “unprecedented opportunity to promote public acceptance of automated vehicles”.

David Bartos, the Scottish Law Commissioner, said the proposals focused on “ensuring safety and accountability while encouraging innovation and development”.

Drivers would still be responsible for safety preparations inside the vehicle.

Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said the development of autonomous vehicles in the UK “has the potential to revolutionize travel, making daily journeys safer, easier and greener”.

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She continued: “This government has been encouraging the development and deployment of these technologies to understand their benefits.

“However, we need to make sure we have the right regulations, based on safety and responsibility, to build public trust.”

While driverless cars are not yet legal in the UK, manufacturers are developing autonomous vehicle features.

In April of last year, the Department for Transport announced that it would allow hands-free driving in vehicles with lane-keeping technology on congested motorways, at speeds of up to 37 mph.

Matthew Avery, director of research strategy at road safety organization Thatcham Research, who contributed a query for the report, warned that the transition to self-driving cars is “fraught with risk”.

He said: “In the next 12 months, we are likely to see the first iterations of self-driving features in cars in the UK.

“It is significant that the Law Commission report highlights the legal obligations of the driver and how they must understand that their vehicle is not yet completely self-driving.”

It will be up to the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to decide whether to accept the report’s recommendations.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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