Calls to make companies liable for accidents not drivers

Calls to make companies liable for accidents not drivers

Self-driving cars: Calls to make companies liable for accidents not drivers

Self-driving car users should have immunity from offences, according to a new report. Photo: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

People in a self-driving car should not be responsible for dangerous driving, accidents, speeding and jumping red lights, legal watchdogs propose.

A report released on Wednesday from law commissioners covering England, Wales and Scotland calls for parliament to regulate vehicles that can drive themselves.

In these cars, the driver should be redefined as a “user-in-charge”, with very different legal responsibilities. If anything goes wrong, the company behind the driving system would be responsible, rather than the driver.

However, whoever is in the driver’s seat should still be responsible for things like carrying insurance, checking loads and ensuring that children wore seat belts, the report said. They would also have to remain within the drink-drive limit.

“While a vehicle is driving itself, we do not think that a human should be required to respond to events in the absence of a transition demand (a requirement for the driver to take control),” the report found.

“It is unrealistic to expect someone who is not paying attention to the road to deal with (for example) a tyre blow-out or a closed road sign. Even hearing ambulance sirens will be difficult for those with a hearing impairment or listening to loud music.”

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Still, the report warned there needed to be a “clear distinction” between self-driving features and those that must assist road users to meet the standards.

In April 2021 the Department for Transport announced hands-free driving in vehicles with lane-keeping technology would be allowed on congested motorways at speeds of up to 37mph.

Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer at Thatcham Research, which was involved in the consultation, said: “We applaud the recommendations that compel carmakers to use appropriate terminology when marketing these systems, to prevent motorists from becoming convinced that their car is fully self-driving when it is not.

“In the next 12 months, we’re likely to see the first iterations of self-driving features on cars in the UK.

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

AA president Edmund King said: “While many technological elements of automation or automatic lane-keeping systems will bring in safety benefits, we should not be encouraging drivers to take their hands off the wheel until these systems are regulated and fail-safe.”

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Transport minister Trudy Harrison said the introduction and development of self-driving vehicles in the UK “has the potential to revolutionise travel, making everyday journeys safer, easier and greener”.

“This government has been encouraging development and deployment of these technologies to understand their benefits,” she said.

“However, we must ensure we have the right regulations in place, based upon safety and accountability, in order to build public confidence.”

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