Authorities in the UK are considering new legislation that would exempt drivers of cars involved in road accidents from liability if they are not actually driving the vehicle at the time of the incident.
It’s autonomous driving technologies that UK authorities would like to promote heavily from now on, possibly setting an example for the rest of the world. As ever, it’s less about safety and more about revenue to the budget, should autonomous driving technologies actually reach a level of performance that makes widespread adoption of driverless vehicles possible.
At the same time, the UK government has announced a timetable for investment in autonomous driving system projects, allocating $119 million plus a further $41 million for research into safety and legislative innovations.
According to the bill, future legislation will build on existing laws and declare that car manufacturers are not responsible for the actions of vehicles used in autonomous mode “meaning that a human driver would not be liable for driving incidents while the vehicle is in control of the driving”.
If it doesn’t meet with too many objections, for example from relatives of people injured or killed under the wheels of computer-driven vehicles, the new approach could set a global precedent by establishing exactly where blame should fall for accidents caused by drivers who can’t be bothered with driving their own cars.
For example, when an autonomous Uber test vehicle killed a pedestrian in 2017 , the human safety operator in the vehicle was charged with negligent homicide with a dangerous instrument. Uber was not charged. And after another fatal crash in 2019 involving a Tesla vehicle operating in Autopilot mode, the driver, not Tesla, was charged with two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.