Remote driving nears reality as legislation takes shape

With the Law Commission report increasing the focus on remote driving, Autocar took a look at some of the key issues surrounding it.

How is safety ensured with remote driving?

Anyone who has ever suffered a dropped signal on their smartphone might worry about the consequences if this happened with a remotely controlled car. But both Fetch and Vay adopt the same approach to address this, using redundant mobile networks so that if the signal is not available via one it can be received via another.

What about delays over the network?

This is a key point raised by sceptics. For example, US autonomous vehicle developer Faction claims: “The problem with using the steering wheel is latency (i.e. delay) over a cellular network connection. Humans can get good at steering a vehicle with a 50–100 millisecond latency, but it’s extremely tiring and stressful for any length of time.” In the event of a critical latency, both Fetch and Vay trigger what is termed a “minimum risk manoeuvre”, where a car brings itself to a stop autonomously via on-board tech.

What qualifications does a remote driver require?

While remote drivers clearly need to own a conventional driving licence, there isn’t one for remote operation – a concern for the Law Commission. One idea it proposes is an ERDO (Entity for Remote Driving Operation) permit, where a company that is licensed to operate takes responsibility for the competence of its employees. 

In the UK, this is a route Fetch favours, and it suggests that the Vehicle Certification Agency could assume responsibility for such a scheme.

Who is liable in the event of an accident?

The Law Commission advises that if at fault, remote drivers should be prosecuted for the same offences as in-vehicle drivers. But they should not be held responsible for problems outside their control, such as “connectivity issues or faulty remote driving equipment.” In those circumstances, companies should face sanctions and potentially prosecution. Broadly, Vay concurs, with a spokesperson telling Autocar: “The liability question is highly dependent on the individual case.”

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