Nowadays we are constantly told that we are on the verge of a technological revolution akin to and with as far reaching effects as the industrial revolution of the 19th century. The industrial revolution caused dramatic societal and economic change. Automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are on the verge of doing the same. That poses the question, how will the law respond to such change. Should the law stand in the way of such change, facilitate the change in a controlled way, or try to anticipate the change?
This issue is currently being considered by the Scots Law Commission and the Law Commission of England and Wales in regard to automated vehicles.
The Law Commissions’ consultation forms part of a three-year project commissioned by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. The aim of the consultation is to publish proposals and review legislation to prepare for the introduction of self-driving vehicles on to UK Roads.
Increased automation on our roads has great potential in terms of better access to transport, reducing congestion, reducing pollution and reducing the frequency of accidents. It will also free up endless hours of time currently being spent operating vehicles.
There are however potential challenges that will require to be addressed, such as the possibility of a self-driving car freezing on the road and becoming immobile, reduced accessibility for those who require a driver to psychically assist them and increased congestion caused by a clash between self-driving cars and privately driven vehicles which is inevitable in the early stages of any transition to automated vehicles.
The regulation of automated vehicles on our roads is a complicated area, compounded by the fact that it is expected vehicles will operate with varying degrees of automation. Some being entirely automated (i.e. the passenger only) or some being partly automated (i.e. automation undertakes parts of the responsibilities of the driver). This will logically mean that it will need to be established what level of responsibility and liability will require to be attached to drivers in each particular circumstance.
The consultation is critical to ensure the final recommendations are able to inform the law reform required in this area. Responses to the second publication are due in January 2020, with the project due to run until 2021. Further information on the consultation can be obtained at https://www.scotlawcom.gov.uk/law-reform/consultations/.