Government launches law review of self-driving cars


One of the biggest issues facing the introduction of self-driving cars is where blamed is placed if one is involved in an accident.

Does the responsibility lie with the vehicle owner, the car manufacturer or the firm that’s developed the autonomous driving software?

This and more will be decided in the next three years, with the Government launching a new legal review to prepare the country for driverless cars hitting UK roads.

Driverless car law review launched: The Government will make decisions about where blame is placed if an autonomous vehicle has a crash on UK roads

Driverless car law review launched: The Government will make decisions about where blame is placed if an autonomous vehicle has a crash on UK roads

Driverless car law review launched: The Government will make decisions about where blame is placed if an autonomous vehicle has a crash on UK roads

Minsters have commissioned the study in order to ‘ensure the UK remains one of the best places in the world to develop, test and drive self-driving vehicles’.

Roads minister Jesse Norman yesterday announced the start of the review by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission that will examine any legal obstacles that might restrict the widespread introduction of self-driving vehicles and highlight the need for regulatory reforms.

The project, due to run until 2021, will also consider new criminal offences to deal with hackers trying to infiltrate driverless cars, the Department for Transport said.

The result of the review could see existing driving laws completely reformed to pave the way for the next generation of vehicles. 

According to the DfT ‘key aspects will be adjusting traditional laws to reflect the fact self-driving vehicles of the future will not have a ‘driver’ or perhaps even a ‘steering wheel’ like traditional cars and also consider some of the criminal offences involved.’

Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed in November that he wants fully driverless cars on UK roads by 2021.

This latest review will be a major stepping stone to making that a reality and has become part of the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy.

The Government hopes it will also iron-out concerns about safety when conventional human-driven cars are forced to share the road network with a new breed of fully-autonomous vehicles.

The law review was announced by Roads Minister Jesse Norman on Tuesday during a visit to the GATEway project in Greenwich

The law review was announced by Roads Minister Jesse Norman on Tuesday during a visit to the GATEway project in Greenwich

The law review was announced by Roads Minister Jesse Norman on Tuesday during a visit to the GATEway project in Greenwich

The GATEway Project scheme will see a fleet of autonomous pods provide a shuttle service to investigate public reaction to self-driving vehicles

The GATEway Project scheme will see a fleet of autonomous pods provide a shuttle service to investigate public reaction to self-driving vehicles

The GATEway Project scheme will see a fleet of autonomous pods provide a shuttle service to investigate public reaction to self-driving vehicles

The DfT said the study would ensure the UK remains one of the best places in the world to develop, test and drive self-driving vehicles. Nissan tested a self-driving Leaf electric car at Docklands in London last year (pictured)

The DfT said the study would ensure the UK remains one of the best places in the world to develop, test and drive self-driving vehicles. Nissan tested a self-driving Leaf electric car at Docklands in London last year (pictured)

The DfT said the study would ensure the UK remains one of the best places in the world to develop, test and drive self-driving vehicles. Nissan tested a self-driving Leaf electric car at Docklands in London last year (pictured)

As well as portioning blame in crashes involving other motorists, the review will also investigate the impact on other road users – such as cyclists – and how they can be protected from risk and consider the role of automated vehicles within public transport, car sharing and general future mobility networks. 

Mr Norman said: ‘The UK is a world leader for self-driving vehicle research and development, and this work marks an important milestone in our continued commitment to the technology.

‘With driving technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, it is important that our laws and regulations keep pace so that the UK can remain one of the world leaders in this field.’

The announcement was made during a visit to the GATEway project in Greenwich. 

The scheme will see a fleet of autonomous pods provide a shuttle service to investigate public reaction to self-driving vehicles, though it’s not the only driverless vehicle trial currently ongoing in the country.

Jaguar Land Rover has been conducting tests of autonomous driving tech on the streets of Coventry since November, with more tests scheduled to take place there and in Milton Keynes throughout 2018.

Nissan also tested a self-driving electric Leaf around the Docklands area of London a little over a year ago.

The GATEway Project driverless pods will  navigation a 1.20mile route around the Greenwich Peninsula, using advanced sensors and state-of-the-art autonomy software to detect and avoid obstacles whilst carrying members of the public participating in the research study

The GATEway Project driverless pods will  navigation a 1.20mile route around the Greenwich Peninsula, using advanced sensors and state-of-the-art autonomy software to detect and avoid obstacles whilst carrying members of the public participating in the research study

The GATEway Project driverless pods will navigation a 1.20mile route around the Greenwich Peninsula, using advanced sensors and state-of-the-art autonomy software to detect and avoid obstacles whilst carrying members of the public participating in the research study

Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed in November last year that he wants full driverless cars - like the Pathfinder Pod pictured - on UK roads by 2021

Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed in November last year that he wants full driverless cars - like the Pathfinder Pod pictured - on UK roads by 2021

Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed in November last year that he wants full driverless cars – like the Pathfinder Pod pictured – on UK roads by 2021

The Law Commission for England and Wales and will team with Scottish experts to conduct the research that will make systematic recommendations for consideration by Parliament concerning fully autonomous vehicles. 

Law Commissioner, Nicholas Paines QC, said: ‘British roads are already among the safest in the world and automated vehicles have the potential to make them even safer. Provided our laws are ready for them.

‘We’ll now start consulting widely on how the law should work with this new technology and develop reforms which enable the use of self-driving vehicles in the years to come.

Scottish Law Commissioner, Caroline Drummond, added: ‘Automated vehicles could have a big impact on the way we live and work so it’s important that, UK-wide, we have a legal system which can accommodate them.

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