Last month, Asda and AI start-up Wayve launched the UK’s largest self-driving grocery home delivery trial, covering customers of the Park Royal Superstore in West London. This will accommodate a catchment area of 72,000 households and 170,000 residents. Throughout the course of the trial, an Asda colleague and supervising Wayve safety driver will be in the vehicle when making deliveries. Groceries will be loaded and unloaded onto the van by Asda colleagues.
The vehicles are the fruits of a two-year partnership between Asda and Wayve and feature Wayve’s AV2.0 Solution, which uses machine learning to train its AI software to learn from experience. This theoretically allows them to drive in any environment, including new roads, as AV technology is not geo-fenced and machines learn from experience. This trial is thought to “lead the way on developing a self-driving vehicle solution for the grocery market” which could increase efficiency and decrease cost, as well as widening access to the services.
This seems to be the first wholesale step forward towards driverless cars in our everyday life. The industry has been identified as an area for key development by the UK government, and they have plans to roll out a framework in 2025. Within this, the government aims to improve road safety and community connection. It is expected to create 38,000 jobs, forming a £42bn industry. Despite this, there are currently no solid regulations concerning their use.
In 2022, the Law Commission published a report, which was updated with further guidance in February of this year. The updated report seems to be forming the basis of the government’s approach moving forward. The Law Commission placed great emphasis on the distinction between cars which have self-driving features, but allow for the user to take driving controls, and cars which are designed to be entirely self-driving. They believe that this distinction should be the basis for determining who falls liable, which is a key concern for many in a car with no real driver.
Cars with self-driving features, but the capacity for the user to take driving controls, will see the person in the driving seat termed as the user-in-charge. The Law Commission have deemed that the user-in-charge should not be held liable for criminal offences or civil penalties which arise from dynamic driving. This can include all manner of driving offences, including exceeding the speed limit and running a red light, as well as dangerous driving. For such offences caused by the car’s dynamic driving, the authorized self-driving entity (ASDE) would be held liable. This would be the entity who has applied for authorisation of the automated vehicle – depending on the vehicle, it could be the manufacturer, or the software developer, or a joint venture between the two.
The user-in-charge will still be liable for some offences outside of the dynamic driving, including insurance and tax renewal, and ensuring that passengers and children are wearing seatbelts. They can also be responsible for driving offences where a motoring offence has occurred after the automatic driving system has issued a transition demand and they fail to take control of the vehicle.
For self-driving vehicles with no capacity for the user to take over driving controls, users will be regarded as passengers by the Law Commission. The Law Commission has determined that in this instance, vehicles should be overseen by an operator. This will be the organisation with oversight of the vehicle, and they will have responsibility for dealing with incidents. Their job will be to monitor for alerts received from the vehicle where it has encountered an issue or become involved with a collision. Where the vehicle commits motoring offences, liability may rest with the operator.
In short, the Law Commission considers that liability should start with the manufacture of the vehicle itself, and the standards that would need to be met in order for them to “self-drive” on the roads. There will be little to no scope for the human driver as a principal focus of accountability.
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