Autonomous Vehicles. What Does the Future Hold?

On 7th November 2018 our transport lawyers will be presenting at the Silverstone Technology Cluster event in relation to Autonomous, Electrified, Connected and Shared vehicles (ACES vehicles as they are commonly called). These are vehicles that 20 years ago we could only have expected in some form of sci-fi movie, but they are now a reality on our roads.

Having an office in Milton Keynes, we have the benefit of seeing manufacturers testing these vehicles on a regular basis, with the likes of Jaguar and Land Rover regularly testing in the region. Catapult Transport Systems also being based in Milton Keynes is an indication of how the area is at the heart of some innovative and specialist vehicle testing. These kinds of vehicles however are already with us and are here to stay. As transport lawyers, we are closely monitoring the developments from a manufacturing point of view and also the legal implications, and we are looking forward to speaking about this subject on 7th November.

Many people already have connected vehicles with their mobile phones connecting to the car’s dashboard screens, and many vehicles will already have elements of autonomy about them. How this is going to impact on issues of civil and criminal liability is being carefully monitored. Who for example is in control of the vehicle if it is involved in an accident? Is it the driver or is it the manufacturer or indeed the software application provider? In any event, the law must keep up with such changes to ensure that private drivers or those running commercial fleets are aware of the myriad of issues that arise when these vehicles are joining the road. One such development concerns the use of a mobile telephone or other device to perform remote controlled parking of a motor vehicle. As drivers we have to be in control of our vehicle whilst driving with full care and attention at all times. Some vehicles are now fitted with remote control parking processes.

On 11th June 2018 a change to the Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations 2018 came into force stating “A person does not contravene a provision of those regulations if, at the time of the alleged contravention:

a) that person is using a mobile telephone or other device only to perform a remote control parking function of the motor vehicle; and

b) that mobile telephone or other device only enables the vehicle to move where the following conditions are satisfied:

there is continuous activation of the remote control application of the telephone or device by the driver;
the signal between the motor vehicle and the telephone or the motor vehicle and the device, as appropriate; is maintained;
the distance between a motor vehicle and the telephone or the motor vehicle and the device as appropriate, is not more than 6 metres”.
It may be that it is only going to be at the time a serious collision occurs, i.e. with a car driving into a pedestrian, that we are going to see how the criminal or civil courts apply these legal issues. It is exciting to see the developments in technology in the automotive and transportation industry, and I urge all users of autonomous and connected vehicles to never lose sight of the expectation of a reasonably competent driver as set out by the Highway Code and the law.

The full legislation can be found here.