Britain says makers, not car owners liable for self-driving crashes


The UK government is introducing a new bill that will hold manufacturers of autonomous driving vehicles liable for a car crash related to the technology instead of the driver.

Britain will make the makers rather than the owners of self-driving cars legally liable for any crashes under a framework for developing autonomous vehicles (AV), the government said on Tuesday, in a move welcomed by insurers and AV startups.

King Charles said the government would bring forward an Automated Vehicles Bill as he set out the government's legislative agenda for the forthcoming parliamentary session, after one promised last year did not materialize.

"My ministers will introduce new legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development of emerging industries, such as self-driving vehicles," Charles said in a speech to lawmakers.

Tara Foley, head of UK and Ireland operations for global insurer AXA, said this would add "multiple benefits for the UK economy, road safety and green jobs".

"For insurers, it also provides crucial clarity for establishing liability for self driving," she added.

Companies had said Britain could lose out on investments and startups would carry out testing elsewhere unless promised laws regulating AV technology were passed before the next general election, expected next year.

"(The) new primary legislation for self-driving vehicles gives us the confidence to continue investing in R&D and growing our talent base here in the UK," said Alex Kendall, CEO of AV startup Wayve, which has raised around $260 million from investors, including Microsoft.

The government said the bill would protect users and promote safety in the AV industry.

"While the vehicle is driving itself, a company rather than an individual will be responsible for the way it drives," the government said.

Self-driving industry experts have said national regulatory frameworks and establishing legal liability are crucial to winning public acceptance of autonomous vehicles and for insurers to provide coverage.

The bill will establish processes to investigate incidents and improve the safety framework, and will also set the threshold for what is classified as a self-driving car.

In the US market, where states have led the way in testing self-driving cars, California regulators last month ordered General Motors' driverless car unit Cruise to remove its vehicles from state roads, saying it had misrepresented the technology's safety.

Paul Newman, founder of Oxford-based AV software firm Oxa, which has raised about $225 million from investors, said the UK's proposed framework would unequivocally avoid a repeat of Cruise's situation in Britain because it clearly delineates responsibilities.

"There's an inevitability to this technology," he said. "This a fantastic opportunity to get out in front and... create frameworks to build public trust."


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