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Driverless cars are almost here so it's time for some legislation

The Government has now published the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. It may be some time before the Bill works its way through Parliament and becomes law (after all, Parliament is reasonably busy with other matters at the moment), but it does offer an initial glimpse of what the Government is expecting.

The Bill requires the Government, presumably via the Department for Transport, to maintain an up-to-date list of driverless cars (or, what the Bill describes as "vehicles that are designed or adapted to be capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving themselves", and to publish that list. It is not clear, as yet, whether 'publish' equates to 'make publicly-available', or whether it will be akin to the DVLA database.

The Bill goes on to make it clear that when an insured driverless car causes an accident that results in damage or injury, the insurance company is responsible as though it had been a 'normal' driver-controlled car ... with one exception. Where the accident was caused because the owner failed to install safety-critical software, or because the owner (or some other person with the owner's consent) altered the car's software in a way that was prohibited by the insurance policy, then the insurer is able to recover whatever sums it pays out directly from the owner.

Expect insurance companies to start populating their policies with almost-blanket prohibitions on altering the operating software in driverless cars. That will definitely be something for owners of driverless cars to be wary of.

Otherwise, the owner of an uninsured driverless car would, not surprisingly, would be responsible for the consequences of the accident.

There's also an interesting provision within the Bill dealing with electric- and hydrogen-powered cars, which will make it mandatory for 'large fuel retailers' and 'service area operators' (neither of which terms are, as yet, defined by the Bill) to provide electric- and hydrogen-charging points, and require them to be operational during specified hours. That may go some way to solving the 'range issue' on electric vehicles by providing more regular charging points although it doesn't tackle the issue of slow recharging times.


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.


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