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Self-driving cars – who will be sanctioned for motor offences?

Self-driving cars – who will be sanctioned for motor offences? | Insurance Business UK

Self-driving cars – who will be sanctioned for motor offences?

Self-driving cars are already here – but how will the world navigate around this new reality?

The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission have proposed the creation of an Automated Vehicles Act to draw a “a clear distinction between features which just assist drivers, such as adaptive cruise control, and those that are self-driving.”

In the case of accidents, the law commissions stated the person in the driving seat “would no longer be responsible” and the sanctions would be shifted to the company that obtained the authorisation instead. They also asked that “users-in-charge” – not “drivers” – be granted immunity from a wide range of offences, including dangerous driving, speeding and jumping red lights.

“Once their eyes and minds wander away from the road, they have limited ability to respond appropriately to events,” the law commissions said in a summarized report. “They should not be held accountable for failing to notice problems.”

However, users are still expected to shoulder certain responsibilities, such as covering for insurance and ensuring seatbelts are in place.

In April 2021, the UK government was the first in the world to green-light the use of self-driving vehicles at slow speeds on motorways. Although the revision of highway codes is in the works, there is much left to be desired when it comes to a regulatory framework, which the law commissions have promised to address since 2018.

“Today’s report is a significant step, as it provides important legal recommendations and clarity for the safe deployment of vehicles with self-driving features on to the UK’s roads,” said Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer at Thatcham Research, who was among those consulted on the report.

However, insurances companies have called out the term “self-driving” as problematic, claiming that this will lead more users to overestimate the performance of automation and lead to passive attention. In the US, automated vehicles from Tesla and Uber have already been involved in multiple crashes, some even resulting in fatalities.

Following this, the law commissions have also recommended new safeguards to stop driver assistance features from being marketed as “self-driving.”

Meanwhile, some experts like Barrie Kirk, co-founder and executive director of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre for Excellence, claim driverless cars are a safer option, more so than human-driven cars.

“This will lead to a contraction in the insurance industry – if claims go down, payments will go down (and profits),” Kirk told Insurance Business Canada in 2016. “Though in essence, it gives insurers the opportunity to compete with the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).”