Manufacturers operating self-driving vehicles in the UK will be responsible for the vehicle’s actions when in autonomous mode, according to the country a new road map to achieve widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles by 2025.
The British government unveiled the roadmap over the weekend, announcing $119 million in funding for AV projects and an additional $41 million for research to support safety and new legislation.
The roadmap states that the new legislation will build on existing laws and state that manufacturers are responsible for the actions of self-driving vehicles, “meaning that the human driver will not be held responsible for accidents involving driving, while the vehicle controls the driving’.
This distinction could set a global precedent where liability in the event of accidents involving autonomous vehicles can still be somewhat of a gray area. Uwhen an Uber autonomous test vehicle killed a pedestrian in 2017, the human safety operator in the vehicle was charged with manslaughter with a dangerous instrument. Uber was not charged. And after a fatal crash in 2019 with a Tesla car operating on Autopilot, the driver, not the Tesla, was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
As the country prepares to write new laws regarding AVs, Britain has opened a consultation period on ‘safety ambition’ self-driving vehicles to be as safe as a human driver. The results of the consultation would help shape the standards for the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads, as well as potential penalties if those standards are not met.
“It’s still quite a leap from assisted driving, where the driver is still in control, to self-driving, where the car takes control. It is important for the government to study how these vehicles would interact with other road users on different roads and changing weather conditions,” AA President Edmund King said in a statement. “However, the ultimate prize, in terms of saving thousands of lives and improving the mobility of older and less mobile people, is worth pursuing.”
As well as drafting legislation to ensure the safety of autonomous technology, the UK wants to capitalize on the emerging AV market, which is worth around $50 billion and could create 38,000 new jobs, according to estimates. Of the total investment, about $24 million will be used to launch self-driving commercial services, such as autonomous grocery delivery or airport shuttle pods. Another $7 million will go toward further market research and commercialization support.
“We want the UK to be at the forefront of the development and use of this fantastic technology and that’s why we’re investing millions in vital safety research and legislation to ensure we get the full benefits this technology promises,” said the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in a statement.
The government said vehicles that can drive themselves on highways could be available to buy next year for drivers with valid driving licences. While Tesla are one of the best selling cars in the UK, current legislation prevents British drivers from testing Tesla’s full self-driving beta version, its Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS), which comes with a variety of automated driving features. The new legislation could open the door not only to ride-hailing, delivery and public transport, but also to cars equipped with higher levels of ADAS.