Should owners of driverless cars be required to hold a totally new driving licence?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

It has been suggested that a new driving licence system should be considered for owners of driverless cars, following a study conducted by Venturer consortium, amid fears over the safety of the vehicles on the roads.


It may not be long before autonomous vehicle owners may be required to pass a new driving test due to concerns as to how safe the technology is. The study comes after a self-driving Uber vehicle fatally hit American woman, Elaine Herzberg, last month, in the first instance in the world where a pedestrian has been killed by a driverless car.


The study suggests new law enforcements be put in place, requiring autonomous car ‘drivers’ to pay attention while the car is moving, and prohibiting against activities such as sleeping, reading or watching films.


The consortium consists of insurance company Axa, the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol University, and BAE Systems. Testing took place in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, using on-road trials and driving simulators to identify the difficulties posed by the ‘handover’ period, i.e. when the driver of an autonomous vehicle takes back control.

Drivers in the study were found to take just under 2 seconds to regain control of the vehicle when travelling at 50mph. A car can cover a distance of around 45 metres in that time. Rightly so, Venturer consortium suggests that when driving autonomous vehicles, the handover period between car and human control held the highest risk.


The results have also raised concerns as to who is accountable if a crash were to occur, the manufacturer or the motorist?


Sarah Sharples, Professor of Human Factors at Nottingham University, has reportedly said “It may also be necessary for the roll-out of highly autonomous vehicles to be accompanied with the advice, or even law, that in some or all circumstances the driver must maintain attention to the driver situation and that other activities should be minimised or avoided.”

Professor Sharples added that people should have “an appropriate level of competence through a driving test” and that it might be necessary to reconsider whether driving tests include an understanding of how autonomous vehicles behave.


The UK government has commissioned a detailed three-year review of driving laws to ensure legislation is ready to cope with the new technology. Key considerations will focus on how to adjust the law to reflect to fact that some vehicles in the future may not have a ‘driver’. Further aspects, such as whether liability for some criminal offences involved should lie with the car’s owner or its manufacturer, will also need to be considered.  

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