Updates to include guidance on responsibilities and liability for drivers using “autonomous” vehicles
The Highway Code is due to be updated this year with rules for “self-driving” cars, allowing drivers to watch TV and check email on the go.
The code changes will specify where and when “self-driving” can be used, as well as drivers’ responsibility for taking back control.
They also determine who is legally responsible if a car using this technology is involved in an accident.
Although there are currently no cars for sale that can drive autonomously, the government claims the changes will bring the UK “closer to a self-driving revolution”.
The rules will also clarify when a driver must regain control of the car, e.g. when approaching an exit, and confirm that drivers will not be held responsible for any accidents while the technology is in use. Instead, insurance companies are expected to process damage and injury claims.
The Department for Transport says self-driving cars could be on Britain’s roads this year in the form of vehicles equipped with Automatic Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS).
These systems differ from current “assistance technologies” in that they completely take over the task of controlling the vehicle from the driver and allow him to concentrate on non-driving activities. However, the human operator must still be able to take back control within 10 seconds when prompted by the car.
The use of such systems would initially be limited to use on freeways and at speeds of up to 60 km/h.
Transport Secretary Trudy Harrison said: “This is an important milestone in our safe rollout of self-driving vehicles, which will revolutionize the way we travel and make our future journeys greener, safer and more reliable.”
The government says it is working to finalize the legal and regulatory framework to enable widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles by 2025.
Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer at Thatcham Research, said guidance on accountability would be welcome. He commented, “Education is an important factor in safe adoption [of automated driving]and as such, we welcome the announcement’s focus on ensuring drivers understand their legal responsibilities behind the wheel of a vehicle that is being billed as ‘self-driving’.
“As a clear message to the consumer, the focus of the announcement on the legal responsibility of the driver is important, especially when it comes to taking back control of the system. This is an area of risk and it is important that drivers are aware that they must remain engaged and ready to resume driving at any time.”
But David Ward, president of the safety panel of the Global New Car Assessment Program, said the announcement highlighted “odd priorities” at the DfT as it put allowing “severe distractions in yet-to-be-existing autonomous vehicles” ahead of legislation for existing systems such as intelligent speed assistant.
Steve Gooding, director of engine research organization RAC Foundation, said driverless cars “promise a future where deaths and injuries on our roads will be significantly reduced” but there will likely be a “long transition period” while drivers “retain much of it “. responsibility for what happens”.
He stressed the importance of changes in regulations being communicated to drivers.
“Vehicle manufacturers and sellers will play a crucial role in ensuring their customers fully appreciate the capabilities of the cars they buy and the rules that govern them,” he said.