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 road.cc: "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.
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.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.