Drink-drive rules ‘need updating for autonomous car era’

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BBC Sport

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Will occupants in self-drive cars be considered as drivers?

Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs should be exempt from drink-drive laws if they are using autonomous cars, an Australian report has suggested.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has recommended the change, comparing it to someone getting into a taxi.

Current laws could be a “barrier” to the adoption of such vehicles, it said.

Many countries are considering updates to the laws of the road to accommodate autonomous vehicles.

The NTC has been tasked with looking at the legislative changes necessary as self-drive vehicles become common on Australia’s roads.

Such cars have already been trialled in the country, and commercial rollouts are expected by 2020.

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Getty Images

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A Google self-driving car being tested in California

The report considers many aspects of the law changes necessary to accommodate such vehicles, but one of the key issues it addresses is deciding who would be responsible – the person in the vehicle or the autonomous driving system (ADS) that is operating it.

“The NTC believes that the introduction of automated vehicles will have overall safety benefits for the road network by reducing the risk of human error,” the report says.

“Enabling people to use an automated vehicle to drive them home despite having consumed alcohol has the potential to improve road-safety outcomes by reducing the incidence of drink-driving.”

It does not recommend drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs be exempt if they are in semi-autonomous vehicles or cars that allow a switch-over to manual driving.

Ben Gardner, an associate at law firm Pinsent Masons, said that the technology had a long way to go before such changes would become necessary.

“The technology is not quite there for full autonomous vehicles and, as long as we require a human to gain control if needed, it would not be right for them to get drunk,” he said.

A recent report from Pew Research indicated 87% of US adults favoured policies that would see a person in the driver’s seat who could take control of an autonomous vehicle if needed.

And 83% thought such vehicles should travel in dedicated lanes.

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