Consultation asks: Should self-driving cars bend the rules too?

08/11/2018
Chris Ames

Legal experts have asked for the public’s views on creating a digital highway code to support the ‘next generation’ of vehicles.

The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission have launched the first of a series of consultations about ‘crucial’ legal reforms that aim to ensure that Britain is prepared for the introduction of automated vehicles.

The consultation includes asking how road rules that have been developed for human drivers might need to be adapted for automated vehicles so that they drive safely? ‘For example, should an automated vehicle mount the pavement or cross a white line to let an emergency vehicle through, just like a human driver would in an emergency situation?’

The consultation document states: ‘We consider the challenges of taking these “analogue” legal rules and developing them into a much more precise “digital highway code” to govern the actions of highly automated vehicles.’

Law Commissioner Nicholas Paines QC said: ‘Automated vehicles will have a transformative effect on how we take journeys, our standard of living and the wider economy.”

‘We want to hear from stakeholders and the public about how to create an environment in which this technology can flourish whilst maintaining public safety.’

The document also asks whether automated vehicles should ever be allowed to exceed speed limits or when it might be appropriate to edge through pedestrians.

It adds: ‘One of the most difficult challenges faced by automated vehicles is how to cope with groups of pedestrians blocking their path. The concern is that if automated vehicles always stop, and pedestrians know that they will always stop, they may take advantage of this.’

The Commissions said they are asking ‘key questions which will be vital for creating road rules that work safely for automated vehicles’:

  • How should we provide safety assurance for self-driving systems?
  • How should road rules developed for human drivers be adapted for automated vehicles so that they drive safely?
  • Should we introduce a new Government agency to monitor and investigate accidents involving automated vehicles?
  • Do we need to modify criminal and civil liability laws to ensure clarity and certainty in the law about who is accountable if things go wrong? This work builds on the government’s recent insurance reforms for automated vehicles.
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