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Remote drivers must be in UK, if controlling UK vehicles

Law Commission report addresses concerns about forthcoming self-driving tech

Published: 20 Feb 2023

If companies want the permit to operate remote-controlled vehicles, their operators have to be based in the UK, advises a report published by the Law Commission for England and Wales.

Broadly, the Commission concluded two key takeaways. Firstly, companies looking to remotely control cars - whether in-car remotely or from many miles away with no in-vehicle safety driver - need to have a special licence, just like drone operators.
Secondly, it was advised that the cars cannot be remotely controlled from abroad, as it would be too difficult to enforce UK law. 

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The Commission believes that remote drivers ought to operate vehicles under the same laws that non-remote drivers do, so they’ll have to keep to the speed limits, drive on the right side of the road, etc.

The report states that should remote drivers break these laws, they would be liable just as a vehicle-present driver would be. However, if either driver is in remote mode, and the car fails - through an issue with connectivity or something else - then the operator/driver wouldn't be liable. It also said any victims would need to be compensated automatically by insurers.

Referring primarily to vehicles, where the driver does not have immediate and direct line of sight, the Law Commission - the body which oversees review of the laws of England and Wales - was asked by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) to assess whether current driving legislation requires reform for the introduction of self-driving cars

Remote driving technology could be used to make deliveries of food, post or even rental cars. But there’s a plethora of safety concerns, notably reliable connectivity, security threats and driver awareness/focus.

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Commenting on the advice paper, Nicholas Paines KC, 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 roadmap for how the Government can address these problems, whilst also encouraging companies to innovate.”

Transport Minister Jesse Norman added: “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.”

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