Self-driving car users should not be responsible ‘if anything goes wrong’, a new report suggests

New proposals are suggesting that someone behind the wheel of a self-driving car should not be legally responsible in the case of a collision.

A joint report by legal review bodies recommended that a clear distinction is made between features which assist drivers, such as cruise control, and those that define a self-driving vehicle.

The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission called for legal reforms that would make the driver of a self-driving car be immune from prosecution “if anything goes wrong”, such as speeding or running a red light.

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Under the new plan, it suggests that the company or body that obtained authorisation for the technology would instead face sanctions.

Meanwhile, whoever is in the driving seat would still be responsible for other duties such as obtaining insurance, checking loads and ensuring child passengers wear seat belts.

The Law Commissions also recommended that passengers services taken by self-driving cars are accessible, mainly to older and disabled people.

Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner, said Britain has an “unprecedented opportunity to promote public acceptance of automated vehicles”.

David Bartos, Scottish Law Commissioner, said the proposals focused on “ensuring safety and accountability while encouraging innovation and development”.

Drivers would still be responsible for safety preparations inside the vehicle

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

She continued: “This Government has been encouraging development and deployment of these technologies to understand their benefits.

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

While fully driverless cars are not yet legal in the UK, autonomous vehicle features are being developed by makers.

In April last year the Department for Transport announced it would allow hands-free driving in vehicles with lane-keeping technology on congested motorways, at speeds of up to 37mph.

Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer at road safety organisation Thatcham Research, which contributed to a consultation for the report, warned that the transition to self-driving cars is “fraught with risk”.

He said: “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.”

It will be for the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments to decide whether they accept the report’s recommendations.

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