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Eversheds comment: Endorsing trial driverless car schemes on public roads is a shrewd move by the UK government

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    Commenting on the latest announcements of UK Government support for driverless car technology, Peter Shervington, product liability expert at law firm Eversheds, says:

    "This latest announcement reaffirms the UK Government’s commitment to put Britain at the forefront of driverless car development.

    "Endorsing trial schemes using the public road network is a shrewd move and will help to deal with some of the psychological and cultural challenges which the new technology faces from a still somewhat sceptical public. Some have suggested that fundamental changes to the law will be required in order to manage a novel set of risks posed by systems which (ultimately) will place the machine in the driving seat. As far as the law is concerned, however, the obstacles in the way of a wholesale move to driverless technology are not as great as you might think. Clearly, some changes will be needed in the regulatory environment, not least to road traffic law (in which the UK Government has already made progress by establishing a code of practice for testing).

    “Regulators in the UK and EU will be working hard to develop technical regulations to manage the complex systems involved in ‘hands free’ motoring. In general, however, the very vagueness of the law (often a point of irritation for engineers) provides it with flexibility to adapt to changes in technology. Product liability law places an onus on the producer to ensure that their product is safe. The absence of such technical requirements is not, as some might suppose, a barrier to new technology. Rather it means that producers must take on a more onerous burden in ensuring the safety of the products they place on the market.

    "Businesses will need to go into this area with their eyes open: driverless cars represent a substantial assumption by carmakers and other businesses involved in driverless technology of risks previously borne by the driver. The transition will no doubt be incremental, but the end point - a device which navigates mass market vehicles through busy, fast traffic, performing the full range of tricky manoeuvres required of a driver – will represent a significant step change.

    "The potential rewards for early adopters of driverless technology are sky high, but there are also considerable risks. Businesses should be carefully reviewing and refining crisis management plans so as to ensure that they can respond promptly and effectively to the concerns of regulators and consumers should the worst happen."


    This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full terms and conditions on our website.

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