Highway Code updates for autonomous vehicles
As the emphasis on electric vehicles (EVs) increases and the technology behind automated vehicles evolves, the Highway Code has been updated to include key guidance on the new types of vehicles on our roads.
More electric vehicles have been sold so far in 2022 than in all of 2020, according to the latest new car sales figures from by not-for-profit green motoring consultancy New AutoMotive. The data shows that the drive to electric continues to gather pace. As the emphasis on electric vehicles (EVs) increases and the technology behind automated vehicles evolves, the Highway Code has been updated to include key guidance on the new types of vehicles on our roads.
Lydia Clements, legal adviser at DAS Law, addresses some of the most common concerns for drivers and answers the most pressing questions.
What are the main changes to the Highway Code for autonomous vehicles?
The Highway Code sets out rules to help promote road safety and applies in England, Scotland and Wales. These rules set out wording such as must/must not which could constitute a criminal offence if not obeyed and is in contrast to advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.
A new section has been added to the Highway Code to deal with autonomous vehicles and the Secretary of State will provide a list of motor vehicles that are deemed to safely drive themselves. As with other vehicles, drivers will still be responsible for the vehicle to be in a roadworthy condition, have a current MOT test certificate, be taxed and insured.
When the automated vehicle is driving itself, you do not need to monitor the vehicle at all times. However, this does not mean that you can move out of the driving seat. If for example the vehicle is designed to require you to resume driving after being prompted to, you must remain in a position to be able to take control. This ability to regain control is an important part of the legislation and must not be ignored.
Who is responsible if an autonomous car is involved in an accident? How is liability established between the autonomous operation of a car and driver control?
The law remains that if a person drives a vehicle without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons, they are guilty of an offence. An insurer of an automated vehicle would therefore not be liable to the person in charge of the vehicle where the accident caused was due to the person’s negligence in allowing the vehicle to begin driving itself if it was not appropriate to do so.
Under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, where an accident is caused by an insured automated vehicle when driving itself on a road or other public place and an insured person or any other person suffers damage as a result of the accident, the insurer is liable for that damage. Therefore, liability for any accidents will be determined by either the driver being in charge of the vehicle or whether the vehicle is driving itself.
Will you fall foul of the law if you are watching something on your phone or iPad and not the in-built monitor?
As with the driving of a regular motor vehicle, using a hand-held mobile phone, or a similar hand-held device (such as an iPad) would still be deemed illegal. This is set out with Rule 149 of the Highway Code which also states that users must exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. This is the case for road users who are driving and includes when the vehicle is stationary in traffic.
However, the rule(s) provide a few exceptions to this, such as a genuine emergency to contact emergency services where it is unsafe to stop the vehicle or if using the device to make a contactless payment, however, the vehicle must be stationary when doing so.
Changes have also been announced to electric vehicles and warning signs when charging. What are the minimum requirements for displaying a warning sign? What type of warning sign are required? A sign on a windscreen, something on the pavement or road?
Rule 239 of the Highway Code deals with parking of vehicles which is essential for people who are looking to pull over and charge their vehicle. This includes the necessity to switch off the engine, headlights and fog lights, apply the handbrake and checking mirrors to ensure that no one is hit when you open the doors.
The Highway Code has been updated to also set out rules when using an electric vehicle charging point. This includes needing to ‘display a warning sign if you can’. This therefore suggests that the requirement to display a warning sign is there as guidance for road users to follow.
How are warning sign regulations being enforced?
This is difficult to say at present as the changes are still new but, it may well depend on the circumstances. Road users will still need to comply with the various criminal law enactments to avoid any criminal sanctions. Further, drivers will also owe a civil legal duty of care to all other road users. This means they need to take reasonable care to ensure their actions, or any steps they fail to take, do not cause injury to another road user, or damage to property.
What happens if someone removes or steals the sign?
If someone removes or steals the sign that has been displayed and belongs to the road user, this could be treated as theft. That person would be guilty of theft if they “dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it”. The expectation would therefore be that other road users respect the signs that are in place and do not act to increase the danger of those around them by removing these signs.
If someone is injured as a result of a tripping hazard from a charging cable, who is legally responsible for any injuries suffered?
The starting point is that a cable should not be run a long way across the pavement. Owners are encouraged to park close to the charging point to try and prevent tripping hazards to the public. After charging, the cables should be returned in the appropriate place. If these reasonable steps are not taken and an accident occurs, then the user may be held liable.
Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.
About DAS Group
The DAS UK Group comprises an insurance company (DAS Legal Expenses Insurance Company Ltd), a law firm (DAS Law), and an after the event (ATE) legal expenses division.
DAS UK introduced legal expenses insurance (LEI) in 1975, protecting individuals and businesses against the unforeseen costs involved in a legal dispute. In 2018 it wrote more than seven million policies.
The company offers a range of insurance and assistance add-on products suitable for landlords, homeowners, motorists, groups and business owners, while it’s after the event legal expenses insurance division offers civil litigation, clinical negligence and personal injury products. In 2013, DAS also acquired its own law firm – DAS Law – enabling it to leverage the firm’s expertise to provide its customers with access to legal advice and representation.
DAS UK is part of the ERGO Group, one of Europe’s largest insurance groups (the majority shareholder in ERGO is Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers).