The remote operation of a car within the United Kingdom from outside the country should be prohibited, according to a report by government advisory group, the Law Commission.

The report also states that remote-controlled cars are now a “legal grey area”, and draws attention to there being no specific requirement by law in the UK for the driver of a remotely-operated vehicle to be inside the vehicle when operating it. This is neither “prohibited nor specifically permitted,” according to the report.

Remote-controlled vehicles are already in use in environments such as farms, warehouses and mines but car rental companies would like to deploy them, for example when delivering rental cars where it might save the time and cost of a delivery driver’s return trip.

The technology can also support autonomous, driverless vehicles, for instance, if a self-driving vehicle faced a scenario that it could not handle, a remote safety driver could take over.

However, the Commission raised a number of specific concerns within its report, including a lack of connection between the vehicle and the remote driver presenting a safety hazard, a remote driver potentially having less “situational awareness” than a driver physically present and the risk of a motorist with a remote control feeling more detached, as if they were in a video game.

The report also raised the issue of cyberattacks and the possibility that compromised vehicles may be used for terrorism.

Legal factors were also addressed by the Commission. Some inventors of remotely-operated cars had proposed establishing operating centres in a range of European nations, such as Estonia and Belarus.
Nonetheless, the paper argued that putting drivers overseas could make criminal prosecution difficult.
“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 stated.

Due to “difficulties in enforcement,” the research concluded that remote driving from abroad should be prohibited until “proper international agreements” are in place.

It was also determined that a remote driver should be held accountable for their acts in the same manner as a driver sitting behind the wheel, but that organisations should be held liable for technical issues outside the driver’s control. And it stated that companies employing remote drivers to manage automobiles beyond their line of sight must obtain one of two new licences.

The Government has responded to the Commission’s report, with transport minister Jesse Norman stating careful consideration would be given to the recommendations.

As Editor of Lawble, Gill helps business and individuals become better informed about their legal rights. Gill is a content specialist in the fields of law, tax and human resources.