Group of self-driving cars

Users of self-driving cars in the UK will not be held responsible for crashes

Image credit: Dreamstime

A new update to the Highway Code will allow motorists to watch TV while using autonomous vehicles.

UK authorities are making changes to the Highway Code to prepare for the arrival of the first self-driving cars on Britain's roads.

Under the proposed changes, drivers will be allowed to watch television programmes and films on built-in screens while using driverless cars, and they will not be held responsible for collisions. However, using a phone behind the wheel will remain illegal and motorists must be ready to take back control of vehicles when needed.

In the case of an accident, insurance companies rather than individuals will be liable for claims, the Department for Transport said (DfT).

Autonomous driving is expected to improve road safety by reducing human error, which has been identified as the cause of 88 per cent of all traffic accidents.

Currently, there are no self-driving vehicles approved in the UK. Existing technologies such as cruise control and automatic stop/start are classified as 'assistive', meaning users must remain fully in control.

In April 2021, the DfT expressed its intention to allow autonomous cars to be used with lane-keeping technology on congested areas. A full regulatory framework of the technology is expected to be published by 2025.

Transport minister Trudy Harrison said updating the Highway Code will be a “major milestone in our safe introduction of self-driving vehicles”, which she claimed will “revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys greener, safer and more reliable”.

The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 new jobs in Britain and be worth £41.7bn to the economy by 2035, according to the DfT.

Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said driverless cars “promise a future where death and injury on our roads are cut significantly” but there is likely to be a “long period of transition” while drivers retain “much of the responsibility for what happens”. He stressed the importance of changes to regulations being communicated to drivers to ease the transition.

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