Driving legal structure for autonomous vehicles

Around the world, autonomous vehicles are being developed and tested, different business models and use cases analysed, and connection systems created. Recent reports see Chinese AI and internet giant Baidu taking forward testing of new types of commercial operations in Cangzhou, northern China. In the UK, the StreetWise project, led by self-driving technology firm Five, has been testing vehicles on busy streets in London to analyse user trust and confidence.

Alongside the roll-out of new technology sits the developing legal oversight. This is a necessary element, both to provide developers with a reliable framework for deployment, and vehicle users with the confidence to try out and use the services on offer.

Internationally, very different approaches are being adopted, although many countries offer a regime to permit testing of new automated vehicle solutions, often with a safety driver alert and at the wheel. Moving on to a system that allows commercial implementation and full consumer access presents a greater challenge for policy-makers.

A number of Mills & Reeve's clients will be impacted by these changes and we have been working with them to influence policy-making. Most recently, the final stages of a major Law Commission review proposed important UK legal reforms. This envisages a safety assurance system to analyse and approve new products and systems, with penalties for inadequate performance by the autonomous vehicle system and rigorous compensation systems in the event of damage or injury.  We have contributed to this process, emphasising above all the need for a clear-eyed recognition of the major shift involved in the transition from driven to self-driving vehicles. Tweaking the existing law for driven vehicles simply won't work. This is a brave new world and our laws need to recognise that.

You can access our thought leadership page here.

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