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  • April 22, 2022

  • Abby Nuttall

  • Driver Articles

This week the government announced changes to the Highway Code to pave the way for self-driving cars coming to the UK. The changes will help ensure safety for all road users when these cars become available on the UK market and make sure that drivers know their legal requirements and responsibilities.

What Is a Self-Driving Car?

A self-driving car, also known as an autonomous car, uses advance technology in order to sense the environment around it and drive through it. They use a combination of radar technologies and sensors in order to use features such as blind spot detection, lane control and speed monitoring.

However, drivers need to be present in the vehicle and alert in case they need to take back control. Most self-driving cars will need the driver to be prepared to retake control of the vehicle when it prompts them to do so and in the planned Highway Code update this will be a requirement.

Self-Driving Cars in the UK Today

Currently, no self-driving cars are allowed on UK roads but these rules are being introduced in order to make sure clear guidance is in place for when they are available, which could be as early as later this year according to the Department for Transport (DfT).

 We’ve all seen the new articles on self-driving cars being involved in accidents due to the driver being inattentive, asleep, or not even in the car in the US and this is why the government is making sure that clear guidelines are in place before the technology is used here.

The first uses of autonomous technology will likely be when travelling at slow speed on straighter roads (such as motorways and larger A roads) in congestion so to minimise the risk of potential hazards. This type of autonomous driving will use lane keeping technology to ensure the vehicle stays in the correct lane and speed control and distance monitoring technology to make sure the car maintains an appropriate distance from the vehicle in front.

Watching TV While Driving

Other changes include allowing non-driving content to be displayed on built in screens when the autonomous mode is activated allowing drivers to catch up on the latest tv series, watch their favourite film or browse online.

It’s important to be aware that the driver will still need to be prepared to take back control of the vehicle when prompted and so will need to be in a position to do so quickly.

Mobile Phones

It will still be illegal for drivers to use their mobile phones while operating the vehicle, even when it is in self-driving mode.

The recent changes to the laws mean that drivers are no longer able to use a loophole that allowed them to use their mobiles if they weren’t communicating. Since the change to the Highway Code came into effect you are not allowed to touch your mobile unless the vehicle is stationary and it is being used to pay for goods or services.

What Will Happen If an Autonomous Car Crashes?

The DfT has advised that if a car is in self-driving mode and is involved in an accident then the insurance company rather than the individual driver will be liable for claims in most circumstances.

The specifics of this are still being worked out and just like with insurance claims now there will be an investigation into the individual incidents to determine where the fault lies.

We will keep you updated as we get more information on how driving laws will be adapted for self-driving cars and the upcoming changes that could affect you!  

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