Autonomous cars could be programmed to break driving laws

Driverless vehicles may need to make “common sense” exceptions to road law in the interests of safety and traffic flow

Driverless cars could be programmed with a “digital Highway Code” that allows them to make “common sense” decisions, potentially breaking the law in the interests of safety and traffic flow.

A joint consultation by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission has set out the need to create a set of rules to govern the actions of autonomous vehicles. These rules could involve programming driverless cars to mount the pavement, exceed the speed limit or edge through pedestrians in certain situations.

• New rules aim to guard cars from cyber attack

The consultation paper says it may be undesirable but necessary for an autonomous car to break the law. Self-driving vehicles may, for example, need to mount the pavement in order to avoid a child that has run into the road, or could be required to cross solid white lines to let an emergency vehicle pass.

The consultation – which is the third part of a five-stage project reviewing the regulatory framework for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles in the UK – also considers the possibility of driverless cars falling victim to “new forms of mischief and crime”.

Examples of this include standing in front of the vehicle to obstruct its movement, spraying paint or mud over its sensors, deliberately obscuring signs or white lines, or hacking into the car’s software, causing it to crash.

Many of these acts can be applied to conventional vehicles and are already covered by criminal law, but the consultation will consider if any new legislation is required.

In accordance with the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, the consultation says the insurer of a driverless car is directly liable in the case of death, personal injury or property damage caused by the vehicle. Once the claim is settled, the insurer may attempt to reclaim damages from the vehicle manufacturer.

However, the consultation explains that it is necessary to decide who should be liable if a driverless car breaks the law and provisionally proposes there should legal clarification that the vehicle occupant should not be responsible for the offence.

Following the consultation, the project will enter a policy development stage, after which a report will be produced.

Can self-driving cars be safely integrated onto our roads? Let us know your views in the comments…

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