New laws for autonomous vehicles

The advent of autonomous vehicles (AVs) will require reform of the road traffic legislation and the law dealing with the safety of road vehicles. The Law Commission, the body responsible for reviewing law in Britain, was asked by the government to review the legal framework for AVs. It has published a 230-page consultation, a very impressive analysis of the technological possibilities and their implications – a good example of what you can get when industrious lawyers get to work on a meaty topic. The summary is a handy introduction to the issues.

One innovative concept tentatively suggested is that of the ‘user-in-charge’, to cover situations where a human may be called on to take charge of an AV in certain circumstances. The user-in-charge would be a person who is qualified and fit to drive, unless the vehicle is specifically authorised as able to operate without one. So any vehicle at Level 4 and below would need such a person to be available, who would not be the driver when the automated system is functioning. For example, a driver might take the car to the motorway, and then engage automated mode, during which time they could undertake some other activity. They would need to be available, as user-in-charge, to take over if automation were to be no longer possible in the event of some malfunction, as well as to drive off the motorway.