Drivers will be renamed ‘users-in-charge’ when automated vehicles hit UK roads and will not be criminally liable if there is a crash, Government law experts have proposed.
They have set out a framework for a complex shift in legal responsibilities when self-driving vehicles take to the streets – expected within a couple of years.
The cars would be programmed to make journeys with passengers on board – who may intervene in an emergency. A Law Commission report suggested the switch could mean the end of the speeding ticket because ‘users-in-charge’ will no longer be held accountable for mistakes made by their car.
However, the person responsible for the vehicle will still have to stay under the drink-drive limit in case they have to take over the wheel.
Drivers will be renamed ‘users-in-charge’ when automated vehicles hit UK roads and will not be criminally liable if there is a crash, Government law experts have proposed. They have set out a framework for a complex shift in legal responsibilities when self-driving vehicles take to the streets – expected within a couple of years. Pictured: A BMW with self-drive technology hits the road
The report said responsibility for what are currently treated as motoring offences – even fatal accidents – should transfer from the driver to the manufacturer of the vehicle or its software.
The changes will open the way for ‘users-in-charge’ to watch films or read during a journey – and even for the traditional driver’s seat to be phased out of future car designs.
The report said: ‘Under our proposals, if a vehicle is classified as self-driving and the ADS [automated driving system] is engaged, the person in the driving seat becomes a ‘user-in-charge’ rather than a driver.
‘This means that… the user-in-charge could lawfully undertake activities which drivers of conventional vehicles are not allowed to do as it would distract them from driving. Examples are watching a movie or reading emails. If there is a collision caused by a vehicle driving itself…the user-in-charge could not be prosecuted for offences such as careless or dangerous driving. The user-in-charge could not be prosecuted for a wide range of other offences, such as exceeding the speed limit.’
It raises the prospect of automated vehicles, or AVs, facing opposition from the public. It said: ‘Eventually, someone will be killed or seriously injured by an AV. The victim will be a real person – their picture will appear in the media, inspiring considerable sympathy.
Transport minister Rachel Maclean launched the report, saying the UK ‘is leading the way on the regulation of this [self-driving car] technology’ [File photo]
‘In these circumstances, developers, regulators and politicians will need to make the case for AVs, producing figures showing an overall decline in injury rates.
‘This may not be an easy sell. Robust data will be needed.’ Self-driving cars are already being tested on UK roads, with a safety officer on board. Launching the report, transport minister Rachel Maclean said: ‘The UK is leading the way on the regulation of this technology, supporting innovation and putting safety at the heart of everything we do.’
The Law Commission said the 4.5million motoring offences committed each year on Britain’s roads would become ‘regulatory matters’ if cars were self-driving. Offences would instead be resolved by a safety watchdog with the vehicle manufacturer.
It said: ‘Automated vehicles should be considerably more law-abiding, so much of this enforcement may no longer be necessary.’ A ‘user-in-charge’ will have to be ‘qualified and fit to drive’ under the plans. It will remain a crime to not have a licence or be unfit to drive through drink or drugs.