It appears so, if today’s government press release is to be believed. Incredibly, drivers will be able to watch TV, but not use their mobile phone, under new Highway Code rules being discussed. Here’s the extract from the government update;
“The plans also include a change to current regulation, allowing drivers to view content that is not related to driving on built-in display screens, while the self-driving vehicle is in control. 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.”
Of course the question of blame when a self-driving, or more accurately, `ADAS assisted car’ has an accident is a tricky one for insurers. Passing control from driver to automated vehicle systems is a moment that can be defined by a data trail, but does the driver always have a LEGAL responsibility to intervene if a warning vibrates, or sounds, or appears in a head-up display? If so, how do insurers define that in the policy T&Cs?
The government is hinting that yes, drivers will have that responsibility, in its new advice published today – read it here. The key para is this;
“The changes to the code will help ensure the first wave of technology will be used safely, explaining clearly that while travelling in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to resume control in a timely way if they are prompted to – such as when they approach motorway exits.”
Defining the level of attention a driver must pay to ADAS systems or road sigange etc. and the speed of response by a driver in an emergency, will provide lucrative work for lawyers in future. IE can see huge problems ahead in terms of driver expectations that the ADAS systems are in effect, a de facto automatic pilot. In the meantime, here are some thoughts from Thatcham Research on the UK government’s attempted tweaking of the Highway Code to reflect ADAS empowered vehicles.
EDUCATION OF DRIVERS
Following today’s Government announcement setting out changes to the Highway Code to help “ensure the first wave of [self-driving] technology will be used safely”, Thatcham Research, which consulted with the Law Commission on its recent report focused on the safe adoption of Automated Driving, has issued a comment.
Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer, Thatcham Research said:
“This is another notable landmark on our journey towards safe Automated Driving in the UK. Education is a key enabler of safe adoption, and as such we welcome the announcement’s focus on ensuring that drivers understand their legal obligations behind the wheel of any vehicle described as having ‘self-driving capability’.
“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 and while Mercedes recently announced that it will accept liability when it’s ‘Drive Pilot’ automated system is engaged, the provision of data will be vital to making sense of collisions and ensuring that legal wrangling does not put a brake on adoption.
“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.”
Responding to the Government’s announcement on changes to the Highway Code to pave the way for automated driving technology in cars, RAC head of policy Nicholas Lyes said:
“Automated vehicle technology has the potential to make our roads safer by eradicating driver-induced errors – a cause of a great many collisions – and could also make lengthier trips a more enjoyable and less tiring experience. While we’re still some way off truly ‘self-driving’ cars, the journey to get there begins with driver assistance technologies such as automated lane keeping systems, as they’re only focussed on one element of driving.
“It’s vital the Highway Code changes covering automated vehicle technology are crystal clear, setting out exactly what drivers can and can’t do when certain features are engaged otherwise there’s a very real risk that drivers will be confused. This itself could lead to avoidable road traffic collisions – especially if a driver hasn’t taken back control of the vehicle after they’ve been told to.
“Educating drivers about how they can and can’t use the technology shouldn’t stop with the Highway Code. The concept of a car doing the driving will be an alien one to the vast majority of people, not least because until now it’s been a legal requirement for drivers to always be in proper control of their vehicles. A huge effort is therefore required by both industry and the Government to ensure drivers trust and understand their vehicles’ automated driving technology. Many people will be highly sceptical and may not trust their vehicles to do some of the driving for them. And even if they’re permitted to take their eyes off the road, just how many drivers will actually choose to, and feel safe doing so?”
Ian Kershaw, head of motor claims at Allianz Commercial, commented:
“While we welcome progress towards self-driving cars, we need to be cautious about giving a distorted view of what using a self-driving car will actually be like. Road safety is paramount, and so is understanding the rules about when drivers can take their attention off the road. This will be allowed only under certain precise circumstances.
“That is why, as an industry, we must continue to educate the public about automated and self-driving vehicles. We also need to gain access to vehicle data so that when accidents happen, we know what caused them. This will not only help establish liability, it will be crucial in rolling out self-driving technology as safely as possible.”