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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Law Commission publishes advice to government on regulating remote driving

Law Commission publishes advice to government on regulating remote driving


Advice paper calls for new regulatory regime on remote driving on UK roads

The Law Commission published its advice to the government on how to regulate remote driving on UK roads on 20 February, which calls for immediate short-term changes to the law to address safety and liability concerns and a new comprehensive longer term regulatory regime. The advice paper stresses that legal clarity is urgently required to address a number of gaps in the law.

The Commission advises the government to implement an immediate short-term prohibition on the use of remote driving technology where the driver is beyond the line of sight. Companies wanting to use remote driving beyond line-of-sight on roads without an in-vehicle safety driver would be given the opportunity to apply for a vehicle special order, whilst the short-term measures are in place.

The advice paper also recommends a ban on remote driving from overseas due to the gravity of the safety concerns. The Commission explains that remotely driving a vehicle from overseas should be prohibited given the current lack of enforcement powers.

Concerning criminal and civil liability, the advice paper states that remote drivers should have the same responsibilities as in-vehicle drivers, but that they should not be held liable for any problems beyond their control, such as problems caused by connectivity issues or faulty equipment. The Commission suggests that remote driving companies should be subject to regulatory sanctions, and prosecution in serious cases. The victims of remote driving related incidents should also be eligible for automatic no-fault compensation from insurers.

The Commission’s review scrutinised what it deems to be the “significant safety challenges” related to remote driving including: the need to establish reliable connectivity and how safety concerns can be mitigated if connectivity is lost, driver situational awareness, the feeling of a possible sense of “detachment” from the physical world, and cybersecurity. More specifically, the review highlighted the need to minimise the risk of unauthorised takeover of remote vehicles by malicious actors.

The International Vehicle Standards team within the Department for Transport and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles asked the Law Commission in 2022 to carry out a review of the current legal status of remote driving and to consider possible reforms. Following the publication of the advice paper, the government will now decide whether to implement the Commission’s recommendations on remote driving.

Nicholas Paines KC, Public Law Commissioner, said “Remote driving is an exciting technology, but before we see remotely operated cars on UK roads, we must address safety concerns through strong regulation. Our advice concludes that in the immediate term, the Government would be able to address some gaps in the law around remote driving using existing powers, while also providing a path for companies to use the technology lawfully provided that their systems are safe. In the longer term, it could set up a full system of remote driving regulation. Regulations must respond to other fundamental concerns around security threats and liability in the event of an accident. Our advice paper sets out a roadmap for how the Government can address these problems, whilst also encouraging companies to innovate.”

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