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UK Government To Review Public Safety Before Self-Driving Cars Arrive on Roads

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The driverless car GATEway, which moves up to 10mph, in Greenwich, London, in 2017. Images: Vickie Flores/Rex/Shutterstock

UK Government To Review Public Safety Before Self-Driving Cars Arrive on Roads

UK: In 2021 the UK government intends the country to be well on its way to a driverless future. The government in the UK will review the existing laws on public safety with regards to self-driving cars, according to a Guardian report. The government will contemplate on issues like whether the type of transport requires new criminal offences.

The announcement makes it clear that the government wants to pioneer the use of autonomous vehicles on Britain’s highways in the near future, albeit it presents major challenges to the existing system of law, which includes presumption of human responsibility.

The issues to be examined by the review include the allocation of civil and criminal responsibility by law where there is shared control between humans and computers; the role of automated vehicles in public transport, car sharing and on-demand passenger services; any need for new criminal offences; the impact on other road users and how they can be protected from risk; and determining who the responsible person is in a self-driving vehicle.

The development of autonomous vehicles is at the heart of the government’s industrial strategy and the three-year law review is considered necessary if it is to stick to the timetable announced in November last year when the chancellor, Philip Hammond, promised driverless cars on the road by 2021.

The roads minister, Jesse Norman, said it was a milestone. “Driving technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, [and] it is important that our laws and regulations keep pace so that the UK can remain one of the world leaders in this field.”

There have been some serious incidents in trials in the US where driverless vehicles have failed to “see” obstacles. The first recorded death involving a driverless vehicle was in July 2016 when a car under autonomous control failed to brake as a tractor and trailer crossed its path.

The review forms part of the government’s push to encourage mobility innovations as set out in its Industrial Strategy which it says is aimed at boosting the UK’s long term productivity and the earning power of citizens. “So presumably the government’s long term vision for truckers, cabbies and private hire vehicle drivers is for them to shift gears into higher tech careers.”

In the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge, one of several the Industrial Strategy sets out to “put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future” the government writes that it wants to “look for opportunities to improve customers’ experience, drive efficiency and enable people to move around more freely”.

“The UK’s road and rail network could dramatically reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants, congestion could be reduced through higher-density use of road space enabled by automated vehicles, and mobility could be available when we want it, where we want it and how we want it,” it adds.