The government has commissioned a detailed review of existing driving laws and regulations in preparation for the continued development and testing of autonomous vehicles.

The three year review will be jointly undertaken by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission, to examine legal obstacles to the widespread introduction of autonomous vehicles and highlight necessary regulatory reforms.

The project will examine crucial areas of law in order to develop a regulatory framework sufficient to withstand the introduction of autonomous vehicles onto UK roads.

The Government indicated that the following issues will form part of the wide ranging project:

  • who is the ‘driver’ or responsible person, as appropriate;
  • how to allocate civil and criminal responsibility where there is some shared control in a human-machine interface;
  • the role of automated vehicles within public transport networks and emerging platforms for on-demand passenger transport, car sharing and new business models providing mobility as a service;
  • whether there is a need for new criminal offences to deal with novel types of conduct and interference.

Consideration of these issues will be crucial in examining how driving laws need to be amended to support the introduction of autonomous vehicles as the emerging technology continues to develop.

The project follows recent proposals including exemptions to the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 to allow remote control parking using hand held devices, and changes to the Highway Code reaffirming driver responsibility in automated vehicles.

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill

The cornerstone of the Government's current policy on automated vehicles, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill has passed from the House of Commons to the House of Lords ahead of the first and second readings.

However, despite a relatively smooth passage through the House of Commons, there has been some dissension expressed over the Bill in the Lords.

Lord Borwick said that whilst he shared "the Government’s aim to put the UK at the front of the pack in developing and using these new technologies. The Bill as drafted does not yet help us achieve that ambition, because it merely enables future regulations."

Echoing consumer concerns, Lord Craig further stated that "not one element of the Bill has any realism unless the listed driverless vehicles are known to be safe for use on motorways, on all other major or minor roads up and down the country, on streets and avenues and in other urban settings wherever they may be cleared and allowed to roam."

Viscount Goschen pointed out that "what is missing now is a regulatory regime to allow the operation of this type of vehicle," and will no doubt welcome the Government's announcement of the Law Commission review.

These readings have been concluded and the Bill will now proceed to the Committee Stage within the House of Lords. The date for this is yet to be announced.

We reiterate our view that the Bill remains very much the first piece in the puzzle for regulating autonomous vehicles and therefore the announcement of the review combined with the progression of the Bill must be welcomed as a positive step.