Driverless Cars: SCL Response to DfT Consultation

September 22, 2014

The Department of Transport has consulted on the regulatory testing framework for driverless cars and SCL has submitted its response. The full response can be downloaded from the panel opposite (pdf). The response comes as California issues permits to companies for public road testing – the development is likely to accelerate in all jurisdictions.

The SCL response followed a survey of SCL members coordinated by Peter Lee, a Committee member of the SCL Technology Law Futures Group and Senior Associate solicitor specialising in technology law at Taylor Vinters LLP, and Natasha Bowyer, a trainee solicitor at Taylor Vinters. The range of comments were incorporated into the SCL response. 

The response is generally favourable to the suggestion that operators of driverless cars would need special training or qualification – five years’ minimum driving experience being a popular suggestion. Respondents generally felt that a second person should be required to be present as an observer in the vehicle, particularly if tests are conducted on public roads. There was also support for the idea that some indication of autonomous operation should be visible but this was not universally accepted; one point made was that:

‘Autonomous vehicles should only be allowed to operate on public roads if they create the same, or less, risk to vulnerable road users. In that case there should not be a need for any extra sign or indication that the vehicle is operating autonomously.’

There was some concern about the suitability of the existing product liability regime as it might apply to driverless cars. The complex factors are touched upon in the response (and our discussed elsewhere on this site), with solution being seen in insurance in various forms. 

Key points to come out of the survey were that care should be taken not to stifle technology when considering regulation; public confidence in testing needs to be ensured for driverless cars to be successful and that liability, insurance and regular servicing need to be addressed as part of any on-going framework governing the use of driverless cars. The review was welcome and, with appropriate testing and regulation, driverless cars could have a huge impact on reducing road accidents, improving road safety and reducing the negative environmental impacts of driving.