Drivers of autonomous vehicles could have greater legal protection under a new proposal published in a recent report.

Manufacturers of autonomous vehicles, rather than their drivers, could be responsible if anything goes wrong with the vehicle, according to a joint report published by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission.

The report includes a recommendation for a new Automated Vehicles Act, which would make a clear distinction between a car with self-driving features and those with features that just assist drivers, such as cruise control. In the event of a collision or accident involving an autonomous vehicle, the manufacturer would be the defendant in any legal action.      

The report follows a consultation into the legal ramifications of autonomous driving technology.

Under the new system of legal accountability, once self-driving features are engaged in a vehicle, the person in the driving seat would no longer be a driver but a “user-in-charge”. A user-in-charge cannot be prosecuted for offences which arise directly from the driving task. They would have immunity from a wide range of offences - from dangerous driving to exceeding the speed limit or running a red light.

However, the user-in-charge would retain other responsibilities of a driver, such as carrying insurance, checking loads or ensuring that children wear seat belts.

Nicholas Paines QC, public law commissioner, said: “We have an unprecedented opportunity to promote public acceptance of automated vehicles with our recommendations on safety assurance and clarify legal liability. We can also make sure accessibility, especially for older and disabled people, is prioritised from the outset.”

The Law Commissions’ report is due to go before the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments, which will decide whether to accept its recommendations and introduce legislation.