Woman standing on road in London

UK government commissions review of driverless cars regulation

Image credit: Dreamstime

The three-year review will aim to answer pressing legal questions about how driverless cars may be handled as they are deployed on British roads in the near future.

If the review is concluded to schedule, the UK could see driverless cars on its roads by 2021.

According to the Department for Transport, the review will ensure that the UK “remains one of the best places in the world to develop, test and drive self-driving vehicles”. It will examine any legal obstacles that may stand in the way of the widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles and will identify any necessary regulatory reforms.

For instance, it will be necessary to adjust existing laws to reflect the emerging realities of road transport, where some vehicles do not have drivers or even steering wheels.

Key questions will include who the nominal ‘driver’ or responsible person is; how to allocate legal responsibility where there is shared control by humans and machines; what the role of driverless cars will be in public transport networks; what the impact on other road users may be, and whether any new criminal offences may need to be introduced.

The review was announced by Roads Minister Jesse Norman at a visit to Greenwich’s GATEway project, which involves the testing and development of automated transport systems in the area, including with the deployment of a shuttle service of autonomous pods.

“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,” said Norman. “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.”

Law Commissioner Nicholas Paines QC commented that: “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.”

The review is part of the government’s new Industrial Strategy, which seeks to strengthen the UK economy and boost its long-term productivity as the country separates from the EU and faces gradual transformation by technology. The announcement follows the commitment to funding for technology innovations - including autonomous vehicles - made during the budget in November 2017.

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