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Automated Vehicles Bill set for second reading

Today marks the second reading of the Automated Vehicles Bill, which is expected to come into force in the new year as the Automated Vehicles Act 2024.

Chapter 1 of the Bill sets out the all-important distinction between those systems (known as “features”) that do and do not require human oversight.

The Basic definition is as follows:

A vehicle travels “autonomously” if—

(a) it is being controlled not by an individual but by equipment of the vehicle, and

(b) neither the vehicle nor its surroundings are being monitored by an individual with a view to immediate intervention in the driving of the vehicle.

On self driving vehicles, for the first time in history, legal responsibility for self-driving vehicles shifts away from human beings.

Chapter 2 sets out a raft of new criminal offences, including a range of corporate offences aimed at ensuring forthright provision of up to date and accurate “information relevant to vehicle safety” by inter alia software companies and car manufacturers. They make very interesting reading. Civil sanctions for such failures of compliance are set out in Chapter 5.

As the Bill’s explanatory note set out, “with 88 per cent of accidents currently involving human error, the potential for automated vehicles to reduce costs, injuries, and fatalities is enormous”.

The impact on PI and product liability law is likely to be commensurately “enormous”.

Topics for consideration today are likely to encompass vehicle safety, as well as civil and criminal liability for incidents involving self-driving vehicles The parliamentary debate can be followed here: – House of Lords.

Harry Lambert is a specialist in product liability, personal injury and information law at Crown Office Chambers.


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