UK Launches Autonomous Driving Study. BMW Chief Claims Full Self-Driving Will Not Be Permitted

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The UK has begun a three-year-long study designed to assess current laws regarding autonomous driving and recommend future legal policies for self driving vehicles. Against that backdrop, BMW chief Ian Robertson has said he believes fully autonomous cars will never be allowed on UK roads.

UK Autonomous Driving Study

autonomous driving carA report by Auto Express says the UK study will examine who will be legally responsible for an autonomous car. That means establishing guidelines on how to allocate criminal and civil responsibility in the event of an incident where elements of “shared responsibility” between a car and driver exist. The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission will lead the study and will tasked with determining how “current driving laws can support the next generation of vehicles.”

In addition, the research will investigate whether autonomous cars require new criminal statutes and will examine “novel types of conduct and interference” such as attempts to hack into the computers and software that control autonomous cars. Potential risks to others using the same roads as self-driving cars will also be assessed, as will how autonomous vehicles will integrate with future on-demand driving services, existing transport networks, and new business models.

Roads Minister Jesse Norman told the press last week, “The UK is a world leader for self-driving vehicle research and development, and this work marks an important milestone in our continued commitment to the technology. With driving technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, it is important that our laws and regulations keep pace so that the UK can remain one of the world leaders in this field.”

Law Commissioner Nicholas Paines added, “British roads are already among the safest in the world and automated vehicles have the potential to make them even safer, provided our laws are ready for them. We will now start consulting widely on how the law should work with this new technology and develop reforms which enable the use of self-driving vehicles in the years to come.”

Autonomous Cars Will Never Be Allowed

BMW head Ian Robertson also had some things to say to the British press about autonomous cars this week. “I think governments will actually say ‘okay, autonomous can go this far.’ It won’t be too long before Government says, or regulators say, that in all circumstances it will not be allowed.” He added that humans will always be responsible for life and death decisions. “Even though the car is more than capable of taking an algorithm to make the choice, I don’t think we’re ever going to be faced where a car will make the choice between that death and another death.”

This is a topic that has been discussed here on CleanTechnica and on our sister site Gas2 on several occasions. The choices are difficult to imagine. Does the car seek to protect its occupants or sacrifice them for the greater good — assuming a life-threatening crash with a school bus filled with young children, for example?

BMW operates an autonomous shuttle service between Munich and Trieste. On a typical day, the cars used in that service collect 40 terabytes of data — 20 times more than an Airbus 380 during a trans-Atlantic flight. Robertson says the technology is “not mature right now. The measure of success is how many times the engineer has to get involved. And we’re currently sitting at around three times [every 1,000 km]. Sounds pretty good … however, that’s three times too many. It has to be perfect.”

But does it? Elon Musk argues that Autopilot is already safer than a human driver and choosing not to use it puts drivers, passengers, and other motorists at more risk than necessary. Even though it is not perfect, any reduction in highway deaths is a good thing.

Waymo has 82,000 autonomous cars on order — 62,000 Pacifica Hybrid minivans and 20,000 I-PACE electric SUVs from Jaguar. Those cars should all be delivered and placed in revenue service within 2 years whether new laws and policies are in place or not. Lawsuits may ultimately determine the legal limits for self-driving cars as much as policies and legislation. Self-driving cars are the future and that future is poised to arrive sooner than anyone not named Elon Musk could possibly have imagined just a few short years ago.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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