The Law Commission of England, together with the Scottish Law Commission, last week announced a consultation into the laws around the self-driving vehicles, as they help prepare for a ‘safe and effective deployment’ of such vehicles in the UK.

The consultation, which is part of a three year review (running until March 2021) looks at the laws around automated road vehicles which are capable of driving themselves and considers a number of issues which may impact developers’, manufacturers’ and future users’ responsibilities.

It asks a series of questions about human factors and influences, safety regulations, civil liability for manufacturers and retailers, and criminal liability for “users in charge”, and asks for views about key issues, such as how safety for self-driving systems can be assured. In particular, the consultation considers whether a new government agency should be set up to monitor and investigate accidents involving automated vehicles, and whether the rules of the road, and those around civil and criminal liability, need to be modified to ensure accountability.

For manufacturers, and to an extent retailers, there are some key issues to evaluate. The consultation looks at the development paths towards automated vehicles, and the different regulatory challenges that arise as a result. There are questions around the extent to which third party testing should be required for modifications to existing vehicle designs (or where vehicles are being produced in small numbers) or whether some form of accreditation or self-certification may be sufficient.

In terms of liability, the Commissions are also asking whether the current rules on product liability for defected software are sufficient, or whether there is a need for review, and they ask more generally for views on any other issues with regard to retailer and product liability. In particular, is there a need for new corporate offences to be introduced where problems with automated driving systems lead to death or serious injury?

For the users of automated vehicles, the consultation is asking for views on matters such as to what extent should they be required to take additional training (and can this be done voluntarily, for example by insurer incentives), and should a ‘user in charge’ be able to check their phone whilst being in control of an automated vehicle?

Some other ethical issues are also considered. For example should an automated vehicle be programmed to always stay within the speed limit, or should they be allowed to exceed it (within an agreed tolerance)? Should they be programmed to never swerve onto a pavement, even if there is a person in the road? There is also a discussion around whether developers should be required to publish their ethical policies which form the basis of how the vehicles are programmed.

As the law moves to keep up with technological advances, it is clear that the Commissions are seeking views on several aspects, and this is the first in a series of consultations, with a further consultation into the use of self-driving vehicles and mobility and public services expected to follow in 2019. Responses can be provided in a number of ways, including online, before 8 February 2019.