Self-driving car users will be able to watch movies on the highway as part of planned changes to the highway code, although cell phone use remains illegal.
The update, proposed by the Department for Transport (DfT), will allow drivers to use a car’s built-in screens to watch movies and TV shows.
The new rules also state that insurance companies will be financially liable, rather than individual motorists, for accidents in self-driving cars.
However, those behind the wheel should be ready to resume control of the vehicle when prompted, such as when approaching highway exits. These measures were described by the government as an interim measure to support the early deployment of self-driving vehicles.
While no vehicles are currently approved for self-driving in the UK, the first could be approved later this year. The introduction of the technology is likely to begin with vehicles traveling at low speeds on highways, such as in heavy traffic.
In April 2021, the DfT said it would allow hands-free driving in vehicles with lane technology on congested highways. Existing technology, including cruise control and automatic stop/start, is classified as “assistive”, meaning users must maintain full control.
Trudy Harrison, a transport secretary, said the updates were the result of a public consultation and would be “an important milestone in our safe introduction of self-driving vehicles”, which would “revolutionize the way we travel”.
She added: “This exciting technology is developing at a rapid pace here in the UK and we ensure we have a strong base for drivers using our roads.
“By doing this, we can help improve travel for everyone, while simultaneously boosting economic growth across the country and securing Britain’s place as a global scientific superpower.”
Steve Gooding, the director of the pro-motoring think tank RAC Foundation, said: “The traffic rules have been updated a number of times in recent years to reflect the rapidly changing world of transportation we live in, and these latest additions will help us all understand what we dos and don’ts as we move on to an environment where cars drive themselves.
“The final piece of the puzzle is to ensure these changes are widely communicated and understood by vehicle owners. Vehicle manufacturers and sellers will play a vital role in ensuring that their customers fully appreciate the capabilities of the cars they buy and the rules that apply to them.”
Earlier this year, the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scots Law Commission published a joint report recommending the introduction of a new Automated Vehicles Act.
The proposals for the law would be that when a car is authorized to be “self-driving” and those features are in use, the user is no longer responsible for how the car drives, but the company that obtained the authorization would. Therefore, the user could not be prosecuted for offenses directly related to driving, and thus be immune to offenses involving dangerous driving.
The governments of the UK, Scotland and Wales will decide whether to accept the report’s recommendations and transpose them into law, and the governments expect to have a full regulatory framework in place by 2025 to support the widespread adoption of driverless vehicle technology.