Highway Code adds rules for self-driving cars

Updated manual advises that drivers can ‘turn their attention from the road’ and watch in-car entertainment – but must always be ready to retake control of the vehicle

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The Highway Code has been updated to include rules for motorists using self-driving cars – who are advised that the rules allow them to sit back and enjoy watching their in-car entertainment system.

Government first announced in April that the guidelines for motorists would be amended to include a new section intended to “clarify drivers’ responsibilities in self-driving vehicles”. Alongside the updated rules is a new online register of all such vehicles that authorities have deemed to be safe for use on UK roads.

No vehicles are approved currently, but the introduction of the new Highway Code rules is intended “to ensure the first self-driving vehicles are introduced safely on UK roads” and that “drivers will be able to experience the full benefits”.

As of Friday, the code includes in its introduction a section headed ‘Self-driving vehicles’. The guidance explains that such vehicles are different from those which contain merely assistance features – such as cruise control or lane-keeping support systems.

“[Self-driving] vehicles are capable of safely driving themselves when the self-driving function is correctly turned on and the driver follows the manufacturer’s instructions. While the vehicle is driving itself, you do not need to monitor it,” the code says. 

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Drivers are advised that the “vehicle’s ability to drive itself may be limited to certain situations or parts of a journey”, and that factors such as “type of road, time of day, weather, location and speed” may hamper or prohibit a car from driving independently.

The code says: “You should follow the manufacturer’s instructions about when and how to use the self-driving function safely.”

It adds: “If a self-driving vehicle needs to hand control back to the driver, it will give you enough warning to do this safely. You MUST always be able and ready to take control, and do it when the vehicle prompts you. For example, you should stay in the driving seat and stay awake. When you have taken back control or turned off the self-driving function, you are responsible for all aspects of driving.”

However, drivers are advised that “while a self-driving vehicle is driving itself in a valid situation, you are not responsible for how it drives”.

“You may turn your attention away from the road and you may also view content through the vehicle’s built-in infotainment apparatus, if available,” according to the updated rules.

Irrespective of a car’s ability to drive independently, motorists are reminded that they must obey all other legal requirements, including laws on drink-driving, MOTs, insurance, road tax, and use of mobile devices while driving.


Sam Trendall

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