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Uber Issues Warning about Potential Over-regulation of Self-driving cars

Sinead Donnelly


uber self-driving cars

The app-based taxi firm said any new bodies set up to regulate the vehicles should not “impede innovation or create artificial barriers”.

The San Francisco-based company told the Law Commission that there is a possibility for “natural tension” to arise between innovation and safety. The company added that regulators should “avoid making concrete decisions where evidence is not yet available to support them”.

Uber’s self-driving programme was suspended for several months last year when one of its cars killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. The firm is the only major US company working on self-driving technology to respond to a Law Commission consultation on how autonomous cars should be regulated.

Uber explained that the company is working toward “level four” autonomy, meaning the cars could pilot themselves on particular road types or in a specific geographical area. The automation industry utilises a five-point scale to measure the capabilities of a particular system, with level five cars able to drive themselves in all situations.


However, the Law Commission, which advises the Government on legal reform, is seeking responses to its proposals for regulating self-driving cars. Proposals could include potential criminal repercussions for anyone who is negligent while in charge of an autonomous vehicle.

In addition, it is considering reviewing the corporate manslaughter law to make it applicable to companies when one of their cars has caused death or serious injury. Other concerns include whether cars should be allowed to mount the pavement to avoid an accident or allow an emergency vehicle to pass, and whether they should be able to “edge through pedestrians”.

The consultation has suggested having a “user-in-charge” who would supervise each vehicle, either acting as a back-up driver within it, or alternatively outside but within sight of it, such as in a car park where cars are controlled by an operator.

This person would be responsible for taking over if the car encounters problems or obstacles. However, the Commission said it would not apply for cars which are part of a taxi fleet, which could be supervised remotely.

At present, almost all self-driving cars are tested with a safety driver in the vehicle. Although some tests have been carried out on closed roads without a human supervisor. Google spin-off Waymo has permission to test its cars on certain California roads with no-one behind the wheel.

Uber said it “welcomes the Commissions’ proposal that, unlike individual automated vehicles, where AVs are part of a fleet operated by a licensed operator they would not be obliged to have a user-in-charge.”

The Law Commission said it was planning a further consultation on autonomous taxi fleets, including the one which Uber is likely to operate. “Our intention is to publish a second consultation paper this autumn about how those who operate automated passenger services should be licensed,” it stated.

However, other respondents to the consultation raised concerns about a remote supervisor potentially taking responsibility for multiple cars, something that Uber has not yet proposed.

Commenting on the outlined proposals, Transport for London said: “If the ‘user-in-charge’ were to be based outside the vehicle and responsible for many vehicles remotely, this could present concerns if they needed to resume control of multiple vehicles.”

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Sinead Donnelly


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