With the UK announcing the possible ability that drivers could be allowed to use the self-driving function on their cars on motorways across Britain, any large technological development it raises questions about what the law regarding self-driving cars will look like in the future.

Though the current guidelines set out under the UN R79 regulations, self-driving features such as automated lane-keeping systems can only be used on motorways and not on roads where there might be cyclists or pedestrians. The systems must also hand control back to the drivers within 10 seconds when traffic exceeds the limit placed on by the Department for Transport of 37mph. Self-driving cars have the possibility now and, in the future, to prevent not just the number of accidents cause by human error but also prevent the numerous deaths that happen on UK roads as a result of car crashes. However, this radical change in how we travel on the road, raises questions concerning criminal culpability and how insurance law will change.

The regulations in place are only extended to automated lane-keeping system technology, but when it eventually gets extended to technology similar to Tesla’s autopilot, where does the blame land in the freak accident that something goes wrong, and a pedestrian is injured as a result of the car not stopping. As the individual engagement when driving decreases and the expectation is that the car will get you to your destination without failure, is it really fair to place the blame on the driver? Even if the driver is intoxicated or even unconscious if the societal expectation is that the self-driving car will do everything to the point that a person isn’t required to control the car, as a result of the self-driving systems being so flawless, is it realistic to convict someone for a crime such as reckless driving?

Regarding insurance who foots the bill in the eventually that someone doesn’t have enough time once then take control from the self-driving system to prevent the accident. Is the owner of the car still liable or is the car company liable because the system placed the driver in a situation where they couldn’t prevent an accident? Beyond that, if there is no human error anymore does that mean the whole auto insurance law part of the law that we have today regarding motor accidents basically ceases to exist, having nearly no impact on our daily lives.

Whilst the promise of self-driving cars is extremely attractive as it means we can be more productive on the way to work, or that it can make travelling by car more interesting, there are a lot of changes to the law that need to happen to allow self-driving cars to be fully viable on our roads.