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Black Country to go Driverless?

Philip EdwardsJonathan Morton

Those of us who have lived and worked in the Black Country and the Midlands for any length of time will be aware of the long and proud history of the motor industry in the region. It would be fair to say that industry has faced its ups and downs. Some of the earliest cars were made in the region, the inventor Thomas Parker may have built an electric car as early as 1884. By 1896 Parker’s son made an "Electric Dog Cart" at the ECC works. The region later went on to produce Sunbeams and Clynos. Many manufacturing businesses went on to be part of the supply chain for the mechanised plants at Longbridge and Coventry. The Jaguar Land Rover site is now becoming a bit of a landmark on the M54 at Wolverhampton.

A big question is how the region will adapt to what might be the biggest and most fundamental changes to the motor industry ever. Driverless cars are coming, and maybe much sooner than people think. The Government has positioned the United Kingdom to be at the forefront of this revolution, through innovative regulations which allow testing on our roads, and a commitment to this country being a leader in the field – there will be opportunities for businesses to respond and be part of the future of the motor industry.

Birmingham law firm, Clarke Willmott, has responded to the developing scene by setting up one of the first specialist legal teams handling issues that arise out of driverless cars and the businesses that support them.

Partner, Philip Edwards, said: "Driverless cars will open a new dimension on our roads – and it will all happen faster than we think. This is technology that may seem futuristic at the moment but which in reality is not far away.

In fact rather than a new innovation that simply appears we believe our existing in-car facilities will continue to be developed to the point where we are using the full range of technology without a second thought and cars effectively become driverless.

When that happens it will have huge implications in law. It will be an enormous benefit to some people and will change so many aspects of life."

Philip said existing driverless technology included self-parking systems, cruise control, lane departure warning and intelligent braking programmes. These are already taking cars out of our hands and replacing our input with technological controls.

He said: "This is steering us into whole new territories which remain to be decided in law. We will be looking at a lot more regulation as the prospect of fully-developed driverless car technology seems to have slipped through the cracks.

Pivotal advances in technology such as this have required constant refinement and improvements before they became safe and accepted. They also make actions possible that were not before, and that has legal implications.

While Driverless Cars will bring long term benefits in terms of safety, reduced emissions and even social mobility – we need to have road-tested procedures in place to deal with potential accidents and personal injury claims – whether from ‘drivers’, manufacturers, suppliers, or installers – not forgetting other road users and pedestrians.

We need to identify who will be held to responsible in the event of an accident involving a driverless car – with recognised legal protocols being put in place capable of being tested in the courts at all levels."

Clarke Willmott believe driverless car technologies will follow a similar development trajectory to that of mobile phones two decades ago.

Said Philip Edwards "We have developed from hand-held devices the size of a house brick to mini computer communication systems the size of a credit card in less than 20 years. Telephones have changed the face of privacy and many other aspects of the law.

We expect similar technological developments that will deliver a fully-automatic driverless car in half that time and we have to be ready for that new market."

Head of Birmingham office, Jonathan Morton, said "There are massive opportunities for local businesses to become involved, whether in manufacturing, infrastructure, sales, through modernising and changing logistics and delivery systems in their own businesses, or even in attracting a more diverse workforce with the mobility advantages that autonomous vehicles will bring. By setting up our specialist team we hope to be at the forefront of helping those business take advantage of the potential for growth that exists."

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Last modified on Thursday, 25 August 2016 13:16

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