“Currently most vehicle modifications are unlikely to be serious enough to risk injury or death to third parties – instead they often serve as indicators of risk-taking individuals,” Cycling UK said. “On the other hand, defective software in an automated vehicle may well represent a very serious safety risk. This is particularly the case with potential hacking of autonomous software and other cybersecurity concerns… Tampering with a vehicle’s software should therefore be made a serious offence.”
“Although changes to the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 have been proposed by the minister, these offences only attract modest fines or penalty points, and in any case the punishment is levied only against a driver or operator. Substantial changes are required to ensure that offences can also be brought against software modifications, either malicious or in error, that result in dangerous automated behaviour,” it said.
“One way this could be altered would be through amendments to the Road Traffic Act 1988, to include altering software, or failing to keep software up to date as matters which may constitute the vehicle being in a ‘dangerous’ condition, punishable with the offence of dangerous driving,” it said.
Cycling UK further suggested that new UK regulations on autonomous vehicles (AV) could place geographical restrictions on where those vehicles could be used in autonomous mode.
“One solution to the problem of inappropriate use might be to mandate restrictions within the technology: for instance if the systems are initially only to apply on motorways the AV function could be geo-fenced, with drivers unable to use the AV function off the motorway,” Cycling UK said. “This has already been discussed in the Bill’s evolution.”
To address the risk that ‘geo-fencing’ is circumvented, whether “deliberately or in error”, the definition of ‘dangerous driving’ in the Road Traffic Act “should be extended to include use of autonomous technology in circumstances in which it is not permitted, or the alteration/failure to update software”, Cycling UK said.
“This is the equivalent of the current practice by which the definition of dangerous driving is extended to include driving a vehicle which is in an unsafe condition,” it said.