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Planned laws for driverless vehicles fail to address criminal responsibility says Cycling UK

Charity says current dangerous driving laws won't apply when vehicle is in self-drive mode and urges government to take action...

Cycling UK says that proposed changes to road traffic aw do not provide for criminal offences in the event that someone is killed or injured in an incident involving an autonomous vehicle,

In written evidence submitted in relation to the Automated and Electric Vehicle (AEV) Bill which this week finished its House of Commons committee stage, the charity outlined its main concerns over the draft legislation.

It said that “while the Bill deals with some of the civil liability aspects of the transfer from human to autonomous control, it fails to transfer criminal responsibility for inappropriate use of autonomous technology, for failing to update the vehicle’s software, or for making dangerous modifications to the vehicle’s software.”

The charity has called on the government to provide a “clearer explanation … of the proposed regulations which will be imposed on forthcoming autonomous vehicles, particularly with regard to vulnerable road users.”

It also called for “changes to the Road Traffic Act 1988 to bring misuse or tampering with autonomous vehicle technology within the definition of dangerous driving,” and to allow for prosecution where motorists "switch to the autonomous modes in inappropriate or unsafe locations."

As currently drafted, the AEV Bill focuses principally on issues relating to civil liability and insurance implications.

But Cycling UK says that while the law currently allows for the prosecution of drivers or owners of motor vehicles involved in a road traffic collision in which someone is killed or injured, the advent of autonomous cars means there will be circumstances where such legislation will not apply.

It said: "If an AV system designed purely for motorway use offered and were allowed to take control of a vehicle on a busy urban street and that vehicle then overtook a cyclist too closely, hitting the cyclist and them, an offence of careless or dangerous driving would be impossible as the legislation is currently written."

The charity also has serious concerns about people potentially modifying the software used to control the car, or circumventing some settings, “either malicious or in error, that results in dangerous automated behaviour."

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, told "There may be long term safety benefits which accrue from a move to autonomous vehicles (AV), but Cycling UK is particularly concerned about the transitional period, when the roads are occupied by a mix of vehicles, some with driver assistance, some autonomous, and some with neither, and about the ability of AVs to detect cyclists and pedestrians.

“The current Bill before parliament primarily seeks to deal with the issues of civil liability that arise with the transfer from human to autonomous control. It fails to deal with the criminal liability should someone use the technology inappropriately. The Government must consider criminal liability as part of the Bill.”

Last week, a cyclist from County Durham was killed in a collision involving a Tesla car, which is capable of being operated in semi-autonomous ‘Autopilot’ mode, although it is unclear whether that was engaged at the time.

> Durham cyclist may be world's first to die in collision with a Tesla – unclear if it was in Autopilot mode

As far as we can establish, it is the first time a bike rider has been killed in a collision with a Tesla car, with the brand at the forefront of driverless technology.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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FluffyKittenofT... | 6 years ago
1 like

All seems a bit ominous.  I mean, when automobiles first appeared on the roads they killed large numbers of people - who were accustomed to walk fairly freely in those roads - and then the resultant outrage was chanelled, by motor manufacturers with the support of their customer base, back against pedestrians, and large parts of the US got jaywalking laws as a concequence.

I could imagine it going in a similar direction when the first deaths-by-autonomous vehicles occur.  There will be confusion as to who is to blame, followed by powerful interests trying to ensure the responsibility is put on the pedestrian and cyclist victims.

kie7077 | 6 years ago

It seems that we don't have testing in place for semi-autonomous systems and these vehicles should not be allowed to drive semi-autonomously anywhere other than motorways because their detection systems simply aren't good enough.

AVs should not be mixing it up with pedestrians and cyclists. Autonomuos and semi-autonomous systems should not be in comsumer vehicles until they are fully proven. Prototypes should be strictly controlled.

kil0ran | 6 years ago

I'm surprised that the EU via NCAP or similar hasn't mandated a safety firmware for AVs. If all cars have the same ruleset it would simplify a lot of the logic/machine learning tasks required. As it is I'm sure that we'll see differing levels of driving from different manufacturers - much like the modes you get currently controlling fuel consumption, gearbox response, traction control, etc

We already know that BMW have built-in a "drive like a monumental cockwomble near cyclists" mode...

hawkinspeter | 6 years ago

In my mind, it's really simple.

A fully autonomous car should make the manufacturer liable in lieu of any other arrangement (e.g. they may assign insurers to cover their liability).

A semi-autonomous car (or 'piece of shit' as I prefer to term them) is under the control of the human driver and thus the liability is with the driver (or insurance company as appropriate). Just because a human may trust the semi-autonomous abilities (and decides to abdicate temporary control), it should not make any difference to who is liable. However, the 'trusting' human may then want to sue the manufacturer if the vehicle doesn't act as described.

However, I'm glad that Cycling UK is pointing out the shortcomings in the planned laws.


patto583 | 6 years ago
1 like

Reading the article it sounds like the new legislation was written purely with lawyers in mind, and no thought at all given to safety, either of car drivers, cyclists or anyone else.

burtthebike | 6 years ago

Am I the only one to find the omissions in this bill more than slightly incredible?  Surely the government want to make vulnerable road users safer, not just car occupants.  Well, they've said that's what they want a thousand times.

Oops, sorry, just for a second there I forgot that our politicians really don't give a flying ------ about cyclists.  Until one of them collides with a pedestrian of course.

Thanks CUK for keeping up the pressure.

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