A joint report from the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission says new laws are needed in relation to self-driving technologies. It calls for an authorisation scheme and greater clarification on legal accountability.

Automated Vehicles

If you are accused of a motoring offence and need legal help, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. We specialise in motoring prosecutions and represent clients across England and Wales.

Self-driving vehicles

Automated vehicles, or AVs, can drive themselves without being controlled or monitored by an individual. This may last part of all of an entire journey. If human intervention is not needed, then the vehicle is described as having a self-drive ADS (automated driving system). In other words, it is self-driving. This is different to driver support, which simply helps the driver do something. An example of driver support is where a vehicle helps the driver to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

This is an important distinction, because where a vehicle is ADS engaged, the person in the driving seat is not responsible for the dynamic driving task. This has huge legal implications which, the report says, need clarification. The report therefore recommends the introduction of new legislation regulating automated vehicles. It also says a clear distinction is needed between features that support drivers and those that are self-driving. It calls for new systems of safety assurance, and a new Automated Vehicle Act to set out new regulatory regimes.

Key recommendations from the report

The key recommendations from the report are as follows:

A test for self-driving vs driver support: write a test for self-driving into the law. This would clearly distinguish between self-drive and driver support features. It would also provide a transparent process for setting safety standards.

An approval and authorisation process: this would be built on the current domestic and international technical vehicle approval scheme. A new second stage would be added to authorise vehicles for use as self-driving on GB roads. The scheme will decide whether an ADS feature is self-driving or not. It will be an offence to describe a feature as self-driving it is has not been authorised.

A safety assurance scheme: to provide regulatory oversight throughout the lifetime of an automated vehicle to ensure it is safe and continues to comply with road rules.

Accountability: if a vehicle is authorised as having self-driving ADS feature, then the person in the driver seat will be immune from a wide range of criminal offences. He/she will no longer be deemed criminally responsible. Instead, responsibility for overseeing the journey falls to a licence “no-user-in-charge” (NUIC) operator. A vehicle will be backed by an Authorised Self-Driving Entity, and any motor offences will be dealt with as a regulatory matter. With regard to civil claims, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act will apply. The insurance company will compensate the victim directly without the victim having to prove that anyone was at fault. Finally, manufacturers and service operators will be held criminally responsible for misrepresentation or non-disclosure of safety-relevant information.

The report will now be considered by the government and the recommendations implemented. We await further updates with interest as this is a very relevant area of law to our clients. Those travelling within an automated vehicle become passengers – and therefore cannot be held liable for any accidents or contraventions. This would have widespread consequences in the future, if and when automated vehicles become a common feature on our roads.

Motor defence solicitors – England and Wales

If you are accused of a motoring offence and need legal help, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors.

Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. See our motoring defence fees page to find out more about our fixed fees.

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