Driverless car consultation sparks debate

27/06/2019
Dominic Browne

The first stage of a major consultation by the Law Commissions of England and Scotland into the legal ramifications of driverless cars has provoked heated debate and looks set to raise more questions than it answered.

Key issues include whether driverless cars could mount kerbs, exceed speed limits or 'edge' through pedestrians.

Experts across the industry responded to the survey and the document Automated Vehicles: Analysis of Responses to the Preliminary Consultation Paper, is now available online.

'We raised three “sample questions” about whether automated vehicles should ever mount the pavement, exceed the speed limit or “edge through” pedestrians. Our aim was to use these examples to address broader questions about when automated vehicles should be allowed (or required) to depart from road rules. All three issues proved controversial,' the document states.

Mounting the pavement:

'A small majority (56%) thought that this would be acceptable in order to allow emergency vehicles to pass, while 52% thought it would be acceptable in order to avoid an accident. However, many arguments were put that mounting the pavement at speed should never be permitted.'

Exceeding speed limits: 

Ths issue also split views. Out of 123 respondents to this question around 60 thought that automated vehicles should never speed, 'with academics and safety groups putting robust arguments for this point of view'.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) said automated driving systems (ADS) 'should not be permitted to exceed the speed limit, “within current accepted tolerances” [10% +2mph], except to allow for minor, short-term variations in gradient' and made a systematic and convincing argument against allowing it.

PACTS said: 'One of the most commonly cited reasons to justify ADS being permitted to exceed the speed limit is the potential need to ‘overtake a vehicle as quickly as possible to avoid collision’ or to ‘speed out of danger’. We do not accept this premise. The ADS should be programmed to avoid such situations.'

Professor Phil Goodwin also dismissed the 'folk myth' that 'exceeding the speed limit while overtaking can be a contribution to safety'.

A separate, contributory survey of RAC members in January this year found that out of 2,201 respondents:

  • Two-thirds (68%) of motorists support the idea of allowing autonomous vehicles to exceed the speed limit if it helped maintain traffic flow. Only a third (32%) opposed this.
  • More than two-thirds (75%) of motorists support the idea of allowing autonomous vehicles to exceed the speed limit to prevent overly sharp braking when reaching a lower speed limit. Only a quarter (25%) opposed this.
  • A large majority (85%) of motorists support the idea of allowing autonomous vehicles to exceed the speed limit if it was done in the interests of safety (e.g. overtaking a vehicle quickly to avoid a collision). Only 15% opposed this.

The Law Commissions found: 'No respondents thought that automated vehicles should be allowed to travel markedly faster than the speed limit, at least not for now, on unsegregated roads. However, around half of respondents suggested that the rule should not be absolute. Instead, ADSs should be permitted to exceed the speed limit within current accepted tolerances, 160 in some limited cases and in appropriate conditions.' 

Edging through pedestrians: 

Of the 125 respondents to this question, around 60 'were strongly against the idea that automated vehicles should ever edge through the pedestrians'.

A minority (around 30) made arguments in favour of edging through pedestrians, although most said this should be limited to particular circumstances, or subject to particular safeguards.

Many respondents thought that an automated vehicle which needed to edge through pedestrians should hand back control to the user-in-charge. This view was put by, among others the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE).

Some argued that the very idea was 'crazy' and others expressed doubt that 'any skilled programmer' could make it feasible.

Dr Charles Fox, who studies game theory in AV-pedestrian interactions, argued on the other side.

He said: Game theory shows that a vehicle (human or autonomous driven) MUST be capable of carrying out a "credible threat" to either hit or otherwise inflict some other negative utility onto pedestrians and other vehicles, in order to make any progress at all.

'If a vehicle is programmed to be completely safe then other road users will learn of this and then take advantage of it to take priority over it in every interaction, and the vehicle will make no progress. Actually, carrying out the credible threat -- as in nuclear warfare -- would be an extremely rare occurrence, but there must be some small probability of doing so formally programmed into the system.'

The issue of introducing a 'jaywalking' law was raised as a solution; however council directors' body ADEPT's Rights of Way Managers Working Group highlighted that, particularly in rural locations, “jaywalking” laws 'could have the effect of severing the Public Rights of Way (PROW) network'.

ADEPT further noted that 'the vast majority of rural carriageways do not have footways' and therefore pedestrians in these areas must be able to walk on the carriageway.

User in charge

The vast majority (79%) agreed with there should be a 'user-in-charge' in a position to operate the controls, unless the vehicle is specifically authorised as able to function safely without one.

However, this raises the prospect of handovers between machine and human, which the Law Commission 'are a matter of acute public concern'.

'Questions relating to handover are complex, and we will need to return to this subject. We appreciate consultees’ concerns that unplanned emergency handovers by “eyes off” users are inherently dangerous and should not be encouraged. We will take this concern seriously in formulating further proposals,' it said.

Two-thirds of consultees agreed that a user-in-charge of a highly automated vehicle should not be considered to be 'driving' while the ADS was engaged.

The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission are conducting a three-year review to prepare the legal framework for self-driving vehicles.

A final report with recommendations on all issues is due in 2021.

Highways jobs

Project Engineer (Permanent)

Havant Borough Council
£37,100
We’re looking for an experienced and enthusiastic engineer to join our well-regarded design and implementation team. Havant, Hampshire
Recuriter: Havant Borough Council

Project Engineer (Fixed Term)

Havant Borough Council
£37,100
We’re looking for an experienced and enthusiastic engineer to join our well-regarded design and implementation team. Havant, Hampshire
Recuriter: Havant Borough Council

Contract Supervisor

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£31,013 - £36,486 depending on skills, knowledge and experience
The role of Contract Supervisor (Waste and Street Cleansing) will require you to support ambitious plans to provide services for residents Richmond upon Thames, London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Flood Risk Manager

Birmingham City Council
£43,662 - £54,574
The role requires the post holder to be the lead professional for the Authority’s Flood Risk Management and drainage function Birmingham, West Midlands
Recuriter: Birmingham City Council

Head of Highways & Transport

Lewisham London Borough Council
up to £72,705
As our lead expert on highways and transport, you will set the direction and lead on all transport related matters Lewisham, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Lewisham London Borough Council

Ugobus Driver (multiple positions)

Essex County Council
Up to £18938.0 per annum
Please note that we have permanent, fixed term and relief contract opportunities on a part time, job share and flexible working basis. The salary is u England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Assistant Director

Hounslow London Borough Council
Up to £82k
Working across a wide range of high profile direct services, the emphasis for this role is on partnership working. Hounslow (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: Hounslow London Borough Council

Head of Parks and Environmental Services

Harrogate Borough Council
£58,778 - £61,882
You will have experience at a senior level in the management and delivery of front line services relevant to the functions Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: Harrogate Borough Council

Programme Technician/Engineer

Norfolk County Council
£29,636 - £31,371 per annum
This is a challenging position which involves working across wide ranging activities. Norwich, Norfolk
Recuriter: Norfolk County Council

Principal Transport Planner – 2 posts (Warrington Waterfront Western Link)

Warrington Borough Council
£40,760 - £43,662 plus essential car user allowance
We are looking to form a new Warrington Waterfront Western Link Team and we are looking to fill a number of key posts Warrington, Cheshire
Recuriter: Warrington Borough Council

Director of Integrated Transport

Liverpool City Region
Salary up to £124,848
The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is embarking on a search for an exceptional individual with the passion to deliver on our vision Liverpool, Merseyside
Recuriter: Liverpool City Region

Highways Manager

Oxford Direct Services
G11
Oxford Direct Services
Recuriter: Oxford Direct Services

Data Entry Administrator

Telford & Wrekin Council
£18,795 - £19,171
Telford & Wrekin’s Public Protection Service is looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated Data Entry Administrator Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Transport Planner

Camden London Borough Council
£33,122 to £38,423
You’ll have previous experience of working in a transport/planning/accessible transport environment Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Parking Business Administrator Level 3 Apprenticeship

Brent Council
£15,000 p.a. inc.
This role will support the Brent Parking Team work to provide administrative support for both the Notice Processing Team Brentford (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Principal Engineer (Development)

Liverpool City Council
£37,849 - £42,683
Liverpool City Council wish to recruit a Principal Engineer (Development) to provide managerial and technical support. Liverpool, Merseyside
Recuriter: Liverpool City Council

Traffic Manager

Lincolnshire County Council
£55,503 - £60,578
We are looking to recruit a Traffic Manager to join our Highways team Lincoln, Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Team Leader x2 - Passenger Transport

Redbridge London Borough Council
£27,228 - £28,215 per annum
You will be responsible for overseeing the duties of Passenger Transport drivers as well as providing support to the service and managers. Redbridge, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Redbridge London Borough Council

UTMC Engineer

Warrington Borough Council
£31,371 - £34,788
You will support the UTMC Principal Engineer and work as part of a team responsible for all aspects of Urban Traffic Management and Control Warrington, Cheshire
Recuriter: Warrington Borough Council

Programme Assurance Manager Public Realm

Westminster City Council
£46,293 - £49,203 per annum
A graduate, or have equivalent experience, and you can show evidence of continued professional, managerial and personal development... City of Westminster, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Westminster City Council

Highways on Fridays

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

Zero carbon roads?

Modelling the future

A breath of fresh air

View the latest issue

Latest Video