UK takes first step towards criminalising driverless car hackers

Law review kicked off to write new statutes

The Law Commission is to conduct a study into British driving laws with the aim of making sure humans can still be blamed for road accidents caused by driverless cars – and criminalising hackers who target autonomous vehicles.

"Key aspects will be adjusting traditional laws to reflect the fact self-driving vehicles of the future will not have a 'driver' or perhaps even a 'steering wheel' like traditional cars and also consider some of the criminal offences involved," the Department for Transport said about the planned three-year review in a statement.

Insurance companies have already told the government they will refuse to pay out if autonomous vehicles run up speeding fines, even threatening to pull their all-important support from the Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Bill (AEV Bill) currently before Parliament if they were made liable in such cases.

The Law Commission will look at "how to allocate civil and criminal responsibility where there is some shared control in a human-machine interface", as well as the creation of new criminal offences for "novel types of conduct and interference" – or hacking of driverless cars, to you and me.

"British roads are already among the safest in the world and automated vehicles have the potential to make them even safer – provided our laws are ready for them," said law commissioner Nicholas Paines QC in a rather ominous canned quote.

Cyclist pressure groups have already, entirely seriously, suggested prosecuting developers of driverless car software for making "errors" if a cyclist gets squished by a self-driving vehicle.

Academics have also questioned whether insurance companies would pay out in a mass-driverless-car-hack scenario. The intent behind the AEV Bill is to ensure that insurance companies do cough up if driverless cars crash, though it seems inevitable that the courts will end up making some precedent-setting judgments once there have been a few crashes.

The Law Commission's review of motoring laws forms part of its 13th programme of law reform. The Commission itself scrutinises laws and makes recommendations to the government about updates to statutes passed by Parliament. Mostly the government accepts and adopts these recommendations, though occasionally it kicks them into the political long grass.

Normally the Law Commission issues public consultations to inform its work and then publishes a paper summarising both the responses and its recommendations to the government. Though no announcement has yet been made about a motoring law consultation, watch this space. ®

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