Remote driving from overseas faces ban in England and Wales | Self-driving cars

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

The review was carried out by the Law Commission of England and Wales, which recommended ministers regulate the technology.

It is currently used only in controlled environments, such as farms and warehouses, but future applications could seek to extend its use in the UK to the delivery of rental cars.

The technology allows for vehicles to be controlled remotely, potentially in public spaces. There is currently no UK law for a driver to be in the vehicle they are controlling.

The commission said “difficulties in enforcement” meant remote driving from overseas should be prohibited “until appropriate international agreements are in place”.

It told ministers that remote driving in public should be allowed only if companies obtained special permissions.

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

Nicholas Paines KC, the public law commissioner, said: “Remote driving is an exciting technology, but before we see remotely operated cars on UK roads we must address safety concerns through strong regulation.

“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. Regulations must respond to other fundamental concerns around security threats and liability in the event of an accident.

“Our advice paper sets out a road map for how the government can address these problems, whilst also encouraging companies to innovate.”

The 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.”

Last year, the commission also recommended that users of self-driving cars should have immunity from a wide range of motoring offences, including dangerous driving, speeding and jumping red lights.

The headline of this article was amended on 20 February 2023 because it incorrectly referred to “self-driving vehicles”. As the text of the article made clear the review referred to remote driving.

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