Reforms proposed for automated vehicles

Feb. 14, 2022 — LEGAL REFORMS proposed recently in the U.K. would draw a clear distinction between automated vehicle features that just assist drivers, such as adaptive cruise control, and those that are self-driving. The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission published a joint report which proposes that when a car is authorized by a regulatory agency as having self-driving features and those features are in-use, the person in the driving seat would no longer be responsible for how the car drives. 

Instead, the company or body that obtained the self-driving authorization would face regulatory sanctions if anything goes wrong. 

Under the commissions’ proposed new system of legal accountability, the person in the driving seat would no longer be a driver but instead a ‘user in charge.’ 

A user in charge would not be liable to be prosecuted for offences which arise directly from the driving task. They would have immunity from a wide range of offences from dangerous driving to exceeding the speed limit or running a red light. 

“Clear definitions of liability, along with a black-and-white determination of a car’s driverless capabilities, should help pave the way for greater support and acceptance in the development of self-driving vehicles,” said Benjamin Hatton of London-based analytics specialist GlobalData. “The report is clear in its suggestions — users of vehicles operating under self-driving features should be legally protected in the event of a collision.” 

For insurers, a major sticking point on autonomous vehicles has been clarification around liability in the event of an accident. 

“By redefining the driver as a user in charge and allocating responsibility to the manufacturer, insurance should become more straightforward for providers,” Mr. Hatton said. 

Under the proposed new rules, the user in charge would retain other driver duties such as carrying insurance, checking loads or ensuring that children wear seat belts. But the self-driving entity that had the vehicle authorized would have responsibility for it. 

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