Driverless cars will require new road regulations

The Government’s decision to allow driverless cars on public roads from January next year means that civil servants have until the end of this year to publish a comprehensive review of road regulations.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said that driverless cars will put the UK at the forefront of this “transformational technology” and will open up new opportunities for the economy and society.

UK engineers have already been experimenting with driverless cars but concerns about legal and insurance issues have so far restricted the machines to private or government-owned roads.

For example, the British Army already uses autonomous vehicles, supplied by automotive design specialist MIRA, while researchers in Oxford have also developed an autonomous car that can be controlled using an iPad.

A spokesman for MIRA said that the UK had some “very advanced technologies and some fairly unique know-how” but lamented the fact that the country lags behind other countries such as the US and Sweden in getting the technology into some real field trials.

Following the announcement, cities that would like to host one of the trials have until the start of October to declare their interest and can then benefit from the £10m fund that has been created to cover their costs, with the sum to be divided between the three winners.

Meanwhile, civil servants have been given until the end of this year to publish a review of road regulations, which will cover the need for self-drive vehicles to comply with safety and traffic laws, and involve changes to the Highway Code, which applies to England, Scotland and Wales.

Two areas will be examined by the review: how the rules should apply to vehicles in which the driver can take back control at short notice, and how they should apply to vehicles in which there is no driver.

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.