Tuesday, 27 February 2024

Legislation Shift: Intoxication and Drowsiness Behind the Wheel of Driverless Cars Set to be Outlawed

Legislation Shift: Intoxication and Drowsiness Behind the Wheel of Driverless Cars Set to be Outlawed
Friday, 10 November 2023 10:02

In a significant development, the government has quashed the notion that driverless cars could serve as a convenient solution for those who've had a few drinks at the pub. Contrary to the hope that autonomous vehicles could act as responsible chauffeurs, the recently announced Automated Vehicles Bill underscores that being over the legal limit will remain illegal even when operating a self-driving car. The documents accompanying the bill specify that users of autonomous vehicles must "remain in a fit state to drive" while the vehicle is in operation.

According to the proposed laws, responsibility for fatal crashes caused by driverless cars will not fall on the owners but rather on the companies developing the technology. However, a crucial caveat is introduced—the presence of a "user in charge." This individual, situated in the front seat, is mandated to hold a valid driving license and must be ready to take command if the self-driving system requires intervention. The user is essentially a back-up driver, prohibited from sleeping or using a mobile phone while the car is in motion.

Moreover, users will bear the responsibility of ensuring seatbelt compliance among passengers and confirming the roadworthiness of the vehicle. Failure to meet these standards could lead to legal repercussions for users, even when the autonomous system is in control. Exceptions to these requirements exist in scenarios where a user in charge is unnecessary, such as in driverless taxi services or shuttle buses remotely operated by staff.

While driverless car companies assert that their systems will ultimately surpass human drivers in safety and curb accidents involving drunk driving, concerns persist. The move to forbid intoxicated back-up driving stems from worries that the convenience of autonomous technology might inadvertently encourage overindulgence, highlighting the delicate balance between technological progress and social responsibility.

Researchers from Curtin University in Australia are shedding light on a potential societal impact of driverless cars: an increase in binge drinking. The convenience of autonomous transportation might lead to a surge in alcohol consumption, potentially overshadowing the public safety benefits associated with self-driving vehicles. A survey conducted in 2020 revealed that 37% of respondents anticipated an uptick in their alcohol consumption if they had access to driverless cars.

In response to the evolving landscape of autonomous vehicles, the UK government introduced the Automated Vehicles Bill, heralding a projected transport revolution valued at £42 billion by 2035 and the creation of 38,000 skilled jobs. While self-driving vehicles are currently undergoing testing in the UK with a mandatory safety driver in the front seat, the legislation envisions the deployment of driverless grocery and package delivery services without a human driver as early as 2026. However, the bill introduces strict measures, requiring driverless car companies to enable police communication with the vehicles for potential pull-overs.

To address concerns of misrepresentation, the bill prohibits car manufacturers from marketing features as "self-driving" unless approved by the government. This legislative framework aims to prevent confusion and ensure that the public has accurate expectations regarding the capabilities of autonomous systems.

The UK Department for Transport emphasizes safety as a core principle of the Automated Vehicles Bill. Rigorous safety tests are mandated for vehicles to gain approval for road usage. The bill also clarifies that individuals operating self-driving vehicles in circumstances requiring human intervention must be in a fit state to control the vehicle, even when the autonomous feature is activated. This approach aims to strike a balance between technological innovation and the imperative to maintain public safety on the roads.

In conclusion, the introduction of the Automated Vehicles Bill in the UK marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of self-driving technology. While the legislation is poised to unlock a transportation revolution and foster a multibillion-pound industry, researchers from Curtin University highlight a potential societal challenge: the prospect of increased binge drinking facilitated by the convenience of autonomous vehicles.

The government's forward-looking vision includes the deployment of driverless grocery and package delivery services as early as 2026, transforming the landscape of transportation and job creation. However, this vision is tempered by the necessity for stringent safety measures, including the requirement for driverless car companies to enable police communication with autonomous vehicles and the prevention of misleading marketing terms.

Safety remains at the forefront of the bill, with a mandate for rigorous safety tests and clear guidelines ensuring that individuals operating self-driving vehicles must be in a fit state to take control when required. Striking a balance between technological progress and public safety, the legislation seeks to mitigate potential risks associated with the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles.

As the UK moves toward a future where self-driving cars play a prominent role, the challenge lies in harnessing the transformative potential of this technology while responsibly addressing societal concerns, such as the impact on alcohol consumption. The coming years will undoubtedly be critical in shaping the trajectory of autonomous vehicles and their integration into our daily lives.

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