Remote driving of vehicles from abroad should be banned, says government review

The Law Commission of England and Wales has urged the UK government to prohibit remote driving of vehicles from overseas, as part of its advice on how autonomous cars should be regulated.

The remote driving of vehicles from overseas, such as for the delivery of rental cars, could be banned following a government-commissioned review.

The Law Commission of England and Wales has made public a set of recommendations regarding how to regulate vehicles being controlled by individuals in remote locations.

The commission concluded that “difficulties in enforcement” mean remote driving from abroad should be prohibited “until appropriate international agreements are in place”.

Overall, it recommended that remote driving in public should only be allowed if companies obtain special permissions.

This technology is already used in controlled environments such as warehouses and farms, but potential future applications include the delivery of rental cars to customers.

At the moment, there is currently no UK law for a driver to be in the vehicle they are controlling.

“Remote driving is an exciting technology, but before we see remotely operated cars on UK roads we must address safety concerns through strong regulation,” said Public Law Commissioner Nicholas Paines KC.  

“Our advice concludes that in the immediate term, the government would be able to address some gaps in the law around remote driving using existing powers, while also providing a path for companies to use the technology lawfully provided that their systems are safe.

“In the longer term, it could set up a full system of remote driving regulation.”

The review also states that a remote driver should be responsible for their actions in the same way as someone sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle. However, it specifies that there should be no liability for faults beyond their control such as connectivity failures.

Transport minister Jesse Norman said: “Remote driving is already being successfully used off-road in several industries and has huge potential to provide new services and safety features for road vehicles.

“The government needs to ensure that safety is at the forefront of the use of any new technology, and the department will carefully consider the Law Commission’s recommendations.”

The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 jobs in Britain and be worth £41.7bn to the economy by 2035, the Department for Transport estimates. 

According to a Thatcham Research 2022 survey, 73 per cent of UK motorists recognise the potential benefits of emerging automated-driving technology. The majority identified improved safety as the main benefit of the technology (21 per cent), followed by improving mobility for elderly and disabled people (14 per cent) and reducing pollution (8 per cent).

The reasons behind the slow adoption of this technology are, nonetheless, related to safety concerns. In 2022, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that carmakers had reported nearly 400 crashes involving automated vehicles. As a result of these accidents, six people lost their lives.  

Last June, MPs announced the launch of an inquiry into the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles, with the view toward boosting the rollout of this technology in a safe way. 

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