Drivers should not be able to remotely drive vehicles from outside the UK, Law Commission advises, finding legal ‘grey area’
An independent commission has advised the government to ban the remote driving of vehicles in the UK from outside the country, for purposes such as the delivery of rental cars.
The Law Commission of England and Wales gave its advice as part of a government-commissioned review.
Remote driving is currently used in controlled environments such as warehouses, mines and farms.
But car rental firms are interested in using the technology for purposes such as delivering rental cars, which could reduce the driver’s return journey.
The commission noted that remotely driven vehicles are currently a “legal grey area” and that there is no specific legal requirement for the driver to be inside the vehicle they are operating.
This is neither “prohibited nor expressly allowed”, the commission’s report said.
Two companies are already testing the technology in the UK to deliver vehicles to customers, the report said.
At present safety drivers are present in the vehicles while they are being operated, but rental car firms hope this requirement could be removed as soon as the end of this year.
Some developers of remotely operated vehicles suggested they might aggregate operations across Europe in operations centres located outside the UK, in countries such as Estonia or Belarus.
But the commission’s report found this could present “difficulties in enforcement” in criminal cases and that this meant remote driving from overseas should be disallowed until “appropriate international agreements” were in place.
“If the vehicle is driven in a way associated with drunk-driving for example, it would not be possible to identify the driver and administer a breathalyser test sufficiently quickly before the driver sobers up,” the report found.
Remote driving in public places should only be allowed if companies obtain special permissions, the report said.
And it argued remote drivers should be held responsible for their actions in the same way as a driver present in the vehicle, but that they should not be liable for technical faults such as connectivity failures.
Public law commissioner Nicholas Paines KC said safety issues in remote driving should be addressed through “strong regulation”.
In the immediate term this could be achieved using existing powers in order to provide a way for companies to use the technology lawfully, he said.
“In the longer term, it could set up a full system of remote driving regulation,” he said. “Regulations must respond to other fundamental concerns around security threats and liability in the event of an accident.”
Transport minister Jesse Norman said remote driving offers “huge potential” for new services and safety features.
“The government needs to ensure that safety is at the forefront of the use of any new technology, and the department will carefully consider the Law Commission’s recommendations,” he said.