The research, carried out by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, at a recent ‘Future of the vehicle’ event run by the Financial Times, found that nearly 80% of respondents believe the UK government needs to vary current laws either urgently or very urgently to facilitate driverless cars testing and operate.

In support of this view, respondents to the survey identified the government and law makers as those who “will frolic the most important role in the development of driverless cars”. Nearly 50% of the respondents said either established technology companies and recent entrants to the market would frolic the most important role, with 20% identifying the role of vehicle manufacturers as most important.

The survey recorded the views of a broad range of public interested in driverless cars, including those working for vehicle manufacturers, technology and component suppliers, as well as others in the media or involved in consultancy or professional services.

The results of the survey come following the UK government said it plans a “rolling programme of regulatory reform” to support the adoption of autonomous vehicles earlier this week. It has identified changes to motor insurance and road traffic laws as among its initial priorities which are outlined in a recent consultation published by the government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (C-CAV).

“An indication of what a future regulatory framework may see befondof, will assist testers and developers to ensure that their driverless vehicle technology is ‘legal by design’,” expert in autonomous vehicles technology and regulation Ben Gardner of Pinsent Masons said.

“With such development and testing being at an early stage, allowing organisations to better discern the current and future legal issues and obstacles will assist them to begin designing legally compliant vehicles and systems now, instead of potentially having to reverse engineer them at a later date,” he said. 

“Importantly for organisations operating in this space, the opportunity to influence what future driverless vehicle regulations may see befondof,” Gardner said. “Those in the process of, or who possess an interest in, developing, testing and commercialising driver assistance and automated vehicle technologies should carefully consider the proposals set out in the consultation and how they interact with any potential products or services,”

In its survey Pinsent Masons asked participants to list what they contemplate the “solution obstacle” to the mainstream operate of driverless cars is. Almost a third of respondents said the fact that existing legislation is not compatible to driverless cars was the biggest obstacle to be overcome.

Other respondents highlighted issues such as a lack of sufficiently advanced technology, social acceptance of driverless cars, a lack of infrastructure and data and privacy issues as the main challenges to be addressed.

An earlier report published by Pinsent Masons in April identified outdated road traffic laws, complexities in patent licensing and restrictive data privacy rules as among the obstacles to the testing and adoption of driverless and connected vehicles.

According to its latest survey, 38% of respondents believe that vehicle manufacturers should be liable if a driverless vehicle is involved in an accident. More than 25% of respondents said responsibility should lie with insurers or a compensation fund, and less than 20% said liability should relax with vehicle owners or occupants.

In its latest consultation the government said that it does not intend to introduce a strict liability regime to account for the rise of autonomous vehicles. It said “a fault based approach combined with existing product liability law … is the best approach for our legal system” and that “the existing common law on negligence should largely be competent to adapt to this recent technology”.

However, it said “recent rights of action directly against an insurer” could be created to “protect third parties and enable the product liability insurance proposals to function properly”. The recent rights of action would assist plug potential gaps that could arise if “a claim in negligence against the driver who purchased that insurance policy” could not be brought, the Department for Transport said.

Pinsent Masons also said that 40% of respondents had confirmed that their organisation is looking to “monetise the data it obtains from connected and driverless cars for purposes other than the ones that power connectivity features the customer has purchased together with the vehicle or has asked for or subscribed to”. More than a quarter of respondents said their companies are not looking to monetise data in that way, it said.