A "detailed review" of driving laws has been commissioned by the UK government in a bid to ensure UK legislation is fit to support a future of autonomous vehicles.
The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission will together "examine any legal obstacles to the widespread introduction of self-driving vehicles and highlight the need for regulatory reforms" during their three year project, the government said.
The commissioning of the review is "the latest in a long line of initiatives" that the UK government has announced as it seeks to make the UK "a global leader in the development, testing and future commercialisation of connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technology", Ben Gardner, a specialist in CAV regulations at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said
Gardner said: "The UK's current regulatory frameworks are complex and split across a number of different pieces of legislation which have been introduced over a number of years. Some legislation dates back to the 1800s, with most applicable modern day road traffic laws dating back to the 1980s."
"The one thing that the current regulatory frameworks do have in common, however, is that they were not drafted with CAVs in mind. The review is therefore welcome and will give the government the ability to put in place legislation which is consistent with emerging technologies and fit for purpose," he said. "This should give manufacturers and users of the technology greater certainty around the legalities of CAVs and their features on the UK road network and remove some of the current grey areas which have resulted from the law failing to keep up with the rapid pace of change of the technology."
In their review the Law Commissions will assess who the 'driver' or responsible person for a vehicle will be when that vehicle is in self-driving mode.
They will also look at how civil and criminal liability should be attributed where there is "some shared control in a human-machine interface", as well as whether new criminal offences need to be introduced to account for "novel types of conduct and interference", the government said.
As part of the review, the Law Commissions will also examine "the role of automated vehicles within public transport networks and emerging platforms for on-demand passenger transport, car sharing and new business models providing mobility as a service", as well the impact driverless cars will have on other road users and how they can be "protected from risk", it said.
Roads minister in England, Jesse Norman, said: "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."
The UK government announced in November last year that it would update UK legislation to allow fully autonomous cars to be tested on UK roads without "a human safety operator" present in the vehicles with a view to such testing taking place by 2021.
Proposed new laws regarding driverless cars were introduced before the UK parliament in October 2017. The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which is still making its way through parliament, makes provision for the registration of all driverless cars in the UK, and addresses how liability for accidents involving such vehicles should be apportioned. The Bill is also designed to support upgrades in UK infrastructure to support anticipated growth in the use of electric vehicles.
In addition, the 'sector deal' struck by the UK government and representatives of the automotive industry earlier this year is centred on supporting the development of low carbon, electric and CAV technologies of the future.
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