20 Apr 22

New rules to support autonomous vehicles in UK

Drivers in the UK will be able to watch television but not use mobile phones when behind the wheel of a vehicle in autonomous mode, according to new Government proposals for changes to the Highway Code.

The code is a set of rules for road users, and will be updated to clarify drivers’ responsibilities in self-driving vehicles.

The update will make it clear that drivers must be ready to resume control ‘in a timely way’ if the vehicle prompts them to do so.

Infotainment allowed, but not phones

It will also allow drivers to watch content that is not related to driving on in-built infotainment screens, while in autonomous mode.

“It will, however, still be illegal to use mobile phones in self-driving mode, given the greater risk they pose in distracting drivers as shown in research,” said the Department for Transport.

Automated lane keeping systems

Approval for the first self-driving vehicles on UK roads could be granted later this year, depending on them meeting strict standards. The technology is likely to start with automated lane keeping systems, and will be restricted to vehicles travelling at slow speeds (up to 60kph) on motorways.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “With the right regulations in place, consumers are set to benefit from safer, more efficient journeys.”

Liability for crashes

The UK government expects to have a full regulatory framework in place to support the widespread deployment of autonomous technology by 2025. This framework will set out who is responsible for how a car drives and any collisions when it is in self-driving mode. A report published in January by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scots Law Commission recommended that the Government introduce a new law to cover automated vehicles, which would mean a ‘driver’ would no longer be responsible when a car is authorised to be in autonomous mode. Instead, the manufacturer which obtained the authorisation for the self-driving technology would be liable.

This will require the free sharing of data between all interested parties, including insurers and vehicle manufacturers, according to Thatcham Research, the UK motor industry’s research centre.

Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer, Thatcham Research said: “Although automation will ultimately make our roads safer, accidents will still occur. Therefore, data must be recorded that shows who was in control at the time of a collision, however minor, and this data must be openly accessible to all stakeholders, not only the carmakers.

“The question of who pays when an automated vehicle crashes remains unclear. Carmakers and insurers will work together to handle claims where the vehicle is proven to be in self-driving mode.”


Last month Mercedes-Benz announced that it will accept legal responsibility for crashes that occur in cars fitted with its Drive Pilot automated lane keeping system, but only if the collision is directly caused by a fault with its technology, and not when the driver has "failed to comply with their duty of care".

“The provision of data will be vital to making sense of collisions and ensuring that legal wrangling does not put a brake on adoption,” said Avery.

“As a clear communication to the consumer, the announcement’s focus on the driver’s legal responsibilities is important, especially when it comes to taking back control from the system. This is an area of risk and it’s important that drivers are aware that they must remain engaged and be ready to resume the driving task at any time.

“We are also pleased to see that the proposed changes will not permit mobile phone use, and instead only allow use of the vehicle’s infotainment system – which means the self-driving system can issue a warning as required and bring the driver back into the loop promptly.”


Image: Shutterstock




Authored by: Jonathan Manning