A detailed review of existing driving laws has been commissioned to aid the development, testing and adoption of autonomous cars in the UK, part of the Government’s Future of Mobility Grand Challenge explored in its Industrial Strategy.

The review by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission was announced by Roads Minister Jesse Norman during a visit to the Gateway project in Greenwich (TRL’s hub for tests and demonstrations of autonomous vehicle capabilities).

The review will examine potential legal obstacles to self-driving vehicle’s introduction in the UK, highlighting any need for reforms to regulations.

Revising current driving laws – implemented with traditional road vehicles in mind – is essential for supporting the next generation of vehicles, says the Government.

“The UK is a world leader for self-driving vehicle research and development, and this work marks an important milestone in our continued commitment to the technology,” Norman said.

“With driving technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, it is important that our laws and regulations keep pace so that the UK can remain one of the world leaders in this field.”

Aspects of traditional laws and criminal offence legislation which will be adjusted include references to ‘drivers’ or even ‘steering wheels’, reflecting that future self-driving vehicles may have neither.

The joint project by the Law Commissions will explore and answer key concerns, including:

• Who is the ‘driver’ or person responsible for the vehicle

• Allocation of criminal and civil responsibility where control is shared between human and machine

• The role of automated vehicles in public transport networks and emerging business models providing ‘mobility as a service’

• Whether new criminal offences will need to be defined as new behaviours and types of conduct emerge

• Potential impacts on other road users, and ways to mitigate any risks   

Law Commissioner Nicholas Paines QC stated: “British roads are already among the safest in the world and automated vehicles have the potential to make them even safer. Provided our laws are ready for them.

“We’ll now start consulting widely on how the law should work with this new technology and develop reforms which enable the use of self-driving vehicles in the years to come.”