Autonomous and electric vehicles: New additions to the Highway Code

As the technology associated with autonomous and electric vehicles is developed at pace, legal issues and regulations are being addressed. When you consider that more EVs were sold in the nine months to September 2022 than in the whole of 2020, this puts the challenge into perspective. In the coming months, we expect the government to issue a constant flow of additions to the Highway Code and guidance regarding existing interpretations.

Recent additions to the Highway Code

Slowly but surely the mist is starting to clear with regard to regulations and legal responsibility in relation to EVs and autonomous vehicles. We have addressed some of the more common questions on these types of vehicles below:-

Responsibility for an autonomous vehicle

While many people had hoped that the government would issue guidance to suggest that drivers/passengers were exempt from responsibility with an autonomous vehicle, this is not the case. We know that the government is currently working on a list of motor vehicles which will be legally recognised as safe to drive themselves. However, this is not as straightforward as it might seem!

  1. Firstly, the driver/owner will still be legally responsible to ensure that the vehicle has a valid MOT certificate, is taxed and insured and is roadworthy. If a recognised autonomous vehicle was involved in a car accident, as a consequence of the condition of the vehicle, the driver/owner would likely be held responsible.
  2. Secondly, many autonomous vehicles still require the driver to remain in the driver’s seat in the event that they are required to retake control. Therefore, if you were to take a nap, switch seats or your attention was diverted, stopping you from retaking control, you could be held liable for any accidents/injuries.

Liability in the event an autonomous vehicle was involved in an accident

Interestingly, where a recognised vehicle, in autonomous mode, is involved in an accident, the insurance company would be liable for any damages/compensation. This is defined under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 which also recognises the potential liability of the driver.

As we touched on above, if the driver allowed the vehicle to self-drive in an inappropriate situation, they would be held responsible. While it may take a number of court cases to define the exact circumstances of appropriate self-driving, drivers still need to act responsibly at all times.

Handheld devices and autonomous cars

It is unlikely that any future legislation will recognise full liability for an autonomous car as opposed to a degree of liability for the driver. Akin to the current non-autonomous vehicle regulations, it is illegal to use a handheld device while “in control of a vehicle”. While many are pushing for autonomous vehicles to be held totally responsible for any RTAs, there is still a grey area relating to overall control.

If it could be proven that a driver should have been in a position to retake control, but they were distracted by a handheld device, they would likely be held responsible for any accidents. There’s no doubt the legal definition and guidelines will be tested in the months and years ahead which should keep the courts busy!

Warning signs and charging an electric vehicle

Over the last few years, we have seen a huge increase in the number of electric vehicle charging points in the UK. Many believe this has been the catalyst for record sales of EVs in recent months, reducing driver anxiety. However, many people may not be aware but the authorities have introduced guidance in relation to warning signs when charging an electric vehicle.

As is the case for traditional vehicles, those driving an EV are still obliged to switch off the engine, headlights and fog lights, and apply the handbrake before checking it is safe to leave the vehicle. If using an EV charging point, the government recommends displaying a warning sign to alert other road users. Note, at the time of writing this is just guidance and there is no legal obligation.

EV charging cables and potential accidents

Whether using a home EV charging point or one in a public place, it is the user’s responsibility to make the immediate vicinity as safe as possible. As you would expect, the cables should not cross either a public road or pathway. The vehicle should also be parked as close to the charging point as possible.

In the event that a third party is tripped over and injured by a charging cable, the vehicle owner would likely not be liable if they had taken reasonable steps to make the area safe. On the flip side, if they were found to be negligent the vehicle owner could end up being sued.

Upkeep of an EV

It is safe to say there will be challenges with regard to both autonomous vehicles and EVs in relation to their upkeep. The manufacturers will still be responsible for the components and software associated with the vehicles. However, it will always be the responsibility of the driver/owner to ensure the vehicle is roadworthy and has the appropriate paperwork. This is a fundamental responsibility of the owner and one which will not be diluted or removed at any point in the future. To paraphrase this, your car, your responsibility!


Whether you are the driver, passenger or third party, the subject of liability in relation to autonomous and electric vehicles is relatively complex. While we have covered a number of issues above, we await further guidance from the UK government and confirmation of recognised safe autonomous vehicles. However, if you have been injured by an autonomous or electric vehicle, as a consequence of negligence, please feel free to contact us to discuss your situation in more detail.

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