The thought of cars that can drive themselves still sounds far-fetched, more like something out of a science fiction film than a reality. Shockingly however autonomous cars also known as self-driving cars could be tested on British motorways as early as 2019 and on the market by 2015. So what do you need to know about these driverless vehicles?
What is a self-driving car?
A self-driving car is a robotic vehicle designed to travel between destinations without a human operator. The car must be able to navigate without human intervention to a pre-planned destination over roads that have not adapted specifically for driverless vehicles.
What is manufacturing these vehicles?
Although seen as an extremely futuristic idea, the first prototype of a driverless car was designed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1478. This prototype is now being made a reality by some of the largest car manufacturers in the world, including BMW, Mercedes and Ford. Aswell as California technology companies such as Google, Telsa and Apple. With these gigantic companies with seemingly infinite resources striving to bring self-driving cars to the market, self-driving cars may be available to the public in the not so distant future. However, there are a few key questions to answer and challenges to overcome.
Are self-driving cars legal in the UK?
The short answer is no; driverless cars are not yet legal in the UK.
The picture is not the same globally as in June 2011, Nevada became the first jurisdiction in the world to allow driverless cars on public roads. For now, however, the UK is concentrated on testing these vehicles in small urban areas, and city centres and the Department for Transport has issued a Code of Practice for how driverless cars should be trialled to streamline the process. The UK government has expressed its desire to become a “leader” in autonomous technology and have provided millions of pounds worth of funding for trialling and developing driverless vehicles. It is clear that along with car manufacturers and insurers, the government intend to make driverless vehicles not only legal but accessible once the current stage of testing is complete.
What would legalising autonomous cars mean for road users?
Currently, there are still many unanswered questions regarding how in practice driverless cars would operate safely on public roads.
A major question is in the event of an accident who is liable if the driver is not in control of the car. Insurance giants Aviva and Direct Line have come together to answer this question and have suggested that compulsory motor insurance should be extended to cover product liability and protect motorists if the software goes wrong. Some manufacturers, Volvo to name one, has committed to self-insure their vehicles but clearly, these are still ideas.
Secondly, how would legalising self-driving cars effect driving tests and driving licenses? Here the government have conclusively stated that there will be a clear distinction between highly automated vehicles for which the existing licensing laws will apply and fully automated vehicles which may require changes. Justified by the fact that unlike in a highly automated vehicle, in a fully automated car as the driver is unable to drive the vehicle like a conventional car under any circumstances.
So are driverless cars the future?
A Despite the flurry of excitement surrounding the development of self-driving cars, it is evident that the day where members of the public will be able to purchase fully autonomous cars and drive them on public roads is still some years away The government, alongside manufacturers and insurers, are still in the process of establishing how, in practice, such technologies can be made safe for public use. So hold off from trading in your car for now, as for the next few years at least, you will still be driving yourself to work.
If you need legal advice, you can speak to a Solicitor online on Talk2Solicitors.co.uk to get the legal advice that you need.