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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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