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Britain to hold makers liable for self-driving car crashes as Government introduces new Bill

The British Government announced on Tuesday that the makers, rather than the owners, of autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be held legally responsible for any accidents that occur while the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode.

This move, outlined in the newly introduced Automated Vehicles Bill, has been welcomed by insurance companies and AV startups alike.

King Charles III, in his address to lawmakers unveiling the Government's legislative agenda for the forthcoming parliamentary session, announced the introduction of new legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development of emerging industries such as self-driving vehicles. This follows a promise made last year that had not materialised.

The aim of the Bill is to establish clear guidelines and accountability within the AV industry, ensuring user safety and promoting public trust in autonomous vehicles.

The implementation of national regulatory frameworks and the establishment of legal liability have long been recognised as crucial factors for gaining public acceptance of self-driving cars, as well as for insurers to provide comprehensive coverage. Experts in the self-driving industry view this legislation as a step forward in both aspects.

Professor Paul Newman CBE, President, CTO and Co-founder at Oxa, emphasised the positive impact of the Automated Vehicles Bill on society. He stated: "Self-driving vehicles are an outstanding example of AI’s ability to deliver strong societal, net-zero, economic, and industrial benefits. Our cities are changing, as are our modes of transport, forms of vehicle ownership, and emissions expectations. But what never changes is our intolerance of harm and injury caused by inevitable, regrettable, and soon to be avoidable road accidents. The new UK Automated Vehicles Bill accelerates the former and preserves the latter."

Professor Newman further explained that the Bill establishes a regulatory framework that encourages innovation alongside necessary safety oversight and transparency.

Newman added: “The Bill will lead to new laws and a comprehensive regulatory framework creating a new class of driver (the first in 100 years) delivering clear partitioning of responsibilities and accountabilities for all the actors that must come together to enable self-driving vehicles at scale. And to do that when the change is driven by a new technology AI that is advancing at pace requires leadership and coherence but if the Bill does its job, which I think it will, the UK will be ahead of the game with legal frameworks that aid development and, importantly, are not a retrofit solution.”


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