Report proposes 'users-in-charge' of self-driving cars should not be liable for certain driving offences
Users-in-charge would be immune from a wide range of offences directly related to driving
In a joint report published yesterday (26 January 2022) by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission, sweeping changes to motoring law were recommended to accommodate the introduction of driverless vehicles and vehicles with self-driving features.
Under the report’s proposals, a person in the driving seat of a car authorised by a regulatory authority as having self-driving features would no longer be responsible for how the car drives while these features are engaged. They would be known as the ‘user-in-charge’ and would not face prosecution for offences directly arising from the driving task.
Instead, the company or body that obtained the authorisation (to be known as an Authorised Self-Driving Entity or ASDE) would face regulatory sanctions if the vehicle drives in a way that would be criminal or unsafe if driven by a human driver.
While users-in charge would have immunity from a wide range of offences – including dangerous driving, exceeding the speed limit or running a red light – they would remain responsible for duties such as holding insurance or ensuring children wear seat belts.
Some vehicles may be authorised to drive themselves without anyone in the driver seat. In this scenario, any occupants of the vehicle would be passengers. Instead of having a user-in-charge, a licensed operator would be responsible for the journey.
The report recommends the introduction of a new Automated Vehicles Act to regulate vehicles that can drive themselves. The recommendations build on the reforms introduced by the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. The 2018 Act ensured victims who suffer injury or damage from a self-driving vehicle do not need to prove anyone was at fault. Instead, the insurer compensates the victim directly.
The report also recommended a clear distinction be made between features which merely assist drivers, such as adaptive cruise control, and those cars that are truly self-driving.
There are many assistance features currently available to human drivers and the report anticipates these features will likely develop to a point where an automated vehicle will be able to drive itself for at least part of a journey, without a human monitoring the road.
It recommended new safeguards to stop such assistance features being marketed as ‘self-driving’ to minimise the risk of collisions caused by individuals thinking they do not need to pay attention to the road while a driver assistance feature is in operation.
Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner, said: “We have an unprecedented opportunity to promote public acceptance of automated vehicles with our recommendations on safety assurance and clarify legal liability. We can also make sure accessibility, especially for older and disabled people, is prioritised from the outset.”
Transport Minister, Trudy Harrison, commented: “The development of self-driving vehicles in the UK has the potential to revolutionise travel, making every day journeys safer, easier and greener.
“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”.
The report has been laid before parliament and the Scottish parliament for consideration of its recommendations.