Watching TV will be allowed in self-driving cars in traffic update

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Self-driving car users will not be responsible for accidents under the proposed changes to the traffic laws.

Insurance companies rather than individuals will be liable for claims in these circumstances, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.

The updated Code will clarify that motorists must be prepared to regain control of vehicles when needed.

The DfT also intends to allow drivers to watch TV programs and movies on built-in screens while using self-driving cars.

It will still be illegal to use a phone while driving.

These measures – which follow a public consultation – have been described as an interim measure by the government to support the early deployment of autonomous vehicles.

A comprehensive regulatory framework should be in place by 2025.

There are no vehicles approved for self-driving on UK roads, but the first could be given the green light this year.

The DfT announced in April 2021 that it would allow hands-free driving in vehicles with lane-keeping technology on congested motorways.

Existing technologies on the market such as cruise control and automatic stop/start are classified as “assistive”, which means that users must remain in full control.

Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said the Highway Traffic Act update will be a “major step in our safe introduction of autonomous vehicles”, which she said will “revolutionize the way we travel, making our greener, safer and more reliable future journeys”.

She continued: “This exciting technology is developing rapidly here in Britain and we are making sure we have a solid foundation in place for drivers when they hit our roads.

“In doing so, we can help improve travel for all while driving economic growth across the country and securing Britain’s place as the world’s science superpower.”

The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 new jobs in Britain and add £41.7 billion to the economy by 2035, according to the DfT.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation automotive research charity, said driverless cars “promise a future where deaths and injuries on our roads are significantly reduced”, but there will likely be a “long transition period” while drivers will retain “much of the responsibility for what happens”.

He stressed the importance of communicating changes to regulations to drivers.

“Vehicle manufacturers and sellers will have a vital role to play in ensuring their customers fully appreciate the capabilities of the cars they buy and the rules that govern them,” he said.

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