Calls for urgent ban on remote control of driverless cars from overseas

National World
Law Commission calls for change in legislation to restrict remote vehicle operation on public roads and outlaw control from overseas

The remote control of vehicles from overseas should be banned urgently, according to a government-commissioned review.

The Law Commission of England and Wales has urged the government to take rapid short-term action to outlaw the practice ahead of creating a more detailed legal framework. Its recommendation comes as part of a report into the remote operation of unmanned vehicles in public spaces.

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The technology is already in use in some controlled environments such as on farms and in warehouses but it has been suggested it could be used more widely, for the delivery of rental vehicles to customers, for example. The commission raised concerns over the reliability of the connection between driver and vehicle, cybersecurity, accident liability and whether the driver has full situational awareness.

It also warned that “difficulties in enforcement” meant that remote driving from abroad should be prohibited “until appropriate international agreements are in place”.

There is currently no specific UK legal requirement for a driver to be in the vehicle they are controlling. The commission said that in the short-term existing laws should be changed to make it mandatory for an in-vehicle supervisor to be on board for any beyond line-of-sight remote driving. It said that any company wishing to use remote vehicle control beyond line of sight and without an in-vehicle operator should have to apply for special permission and submit a safety assessment of its plans.

The review also stated that a remote driver should be responsible for their actions in the same way as someone sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle, but there should be no liability for faults beyond their control such as connectivity failures. Previously, the commission recommended that owners of self-driving cars should not be liable for accidents or damage caused when the vehicle was operating autonomously.

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Public Law Commissioner Nicholas Paines KC said: “Remote driving is an exciting technology, but before we see remotely operated cars on UK roads we must address safety concerns through strong regulation. Our advice concludes that in the immediate term, the Government would be able to address some gaps in the law around remote driving using existing powers, while also providing a path for companies to use the technology lawfully provided that their systems are safe.

“In the longer term, it could set up a full system of remote driving regulation. Regulations must respond to other fundamental concerns around security threats and liability in the event of an accident.”

Transport minister Jesse Norman said: “Remote driving is already being successfully used off-road in several industries and has huge potential to provide new services and safety features for road vehicles. The government needs to ensure that safety is at the forefront of the use of any new technology, and the department will carefully consider the Law Commission’s recommendations.”

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