back to article UK takes first step towards criminalising driverless car hackers

The Law Commission is to conduct a study into British driving laws with the aim of making sure humans can still be blamed for road accidents caused by driverless cars – and criminalising hackers who target autonomous vehicles. "Key aspects will be adjusting traditional laws to reflect the fact self-driving vehicles of the …

  1. wolfetone Silver badge

    "The Law Commission is to conduct a study into British driving laws with the aim of making sure humans can still be blamed for road accidents caused by driverless cars..."

    The law is an ass.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Manufacturers should be liable

    It seems to me that the costs and fines imposed by any accident caused by the fault of an automated car should be paid for by the manufacturer of the automated car not the owners insurance company. The manufacturer needs to ensure that the car can handle any situation safely and also be hack proof. If something fails then they should be liable just like in the airline industry.

    1. Ian Mason

      Re: Manufacturers should be liable

      The approach we've taken so far is that manufacturers are liable for their products. Because of this they insure against such liabilities. The insurance companies then, for free, police the manufacturers and refuse to insure them unless they follow the insurer's advice about reducing risks of product flaws that might give rise to liability. It's not a perfect system, but it has been reasonably successful in making the manufacturers address safety issues as a matter of enlightened self-interest rather than as a pure 'race to the bottom line'.

    2. Dazed and Confused

      Re: Manufacturers should be liable

      > If something fails then they should be liable just like in the airline industry.

      Would we also have a case like with the aviation industry where a fault can lead to the grounding of all similar planes until the problem is fixed?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Manufacturers should be liable

        So that's Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen, Nissan, Datsun and BMW off the road then. Oh, and Renault. And Citroen...

      2. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: Manufacturers should be liable

        Would we also have a case like with the aviation industry where a fault can lead to the grounding of all similar planes until the problem is fixed?

        Striking a balance between that and a regular product recall is presumably the kind of thing on the current agenda.

  3. macjules Silver badge

    A simple solution ..

    Driverless Vehicle Licensing Agency

    A government agency tasked with full testing of driverless vehicle's software and hardware according to an agreed government standard for autonomous vehicles. Manufacturers must ensure that their software is fully compliant with UK standards on motoring, that recognition systems work on UK roads and UK roadsigns where necessary.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: A simple solution ..

      That would require someone in government who knows about software testing. As we've already seen, they can't even get emissions testing right.

      1. macjules Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: A simple solution ..

        They can, if Boris Johnson's regular emissions are anything to go by.

  4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Can they do something more useful instead?

    How about doing something with an economic value instead?

    Like for example:

    1. Failing to control a vehicle equipped with summer tires within an official yellow snow/ice alert zone declared by the met office is a mandatory 3 points and 500£.

    2. Driving (in control or not) a vehicle with summer tires in an official orange snow/ice alert zone is 6 points and 1000£

    3. Not having appropriate equipment, namely snow chains and a shovel and being out and about in a red alert zone is 9 points and 2000£.

    Something similar for lorries and wind would be nice too.

    That will put an end to the ridiculous weathermoans where the whole world is laughing at the clusterf*** resulting from 1 inch of snow.

    Economic effect here and then. If the numbers from the last week weathermoan are to be belived - 1Bn there and then.

    Yeah... I know... Doing something useful is much more difficult than doing tea leaves guessing on future developments in an area where we are not likely to see any numbers for years to come.

    1. trigpoint

      Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

      Since when has winter tyre and snow chain legislation existed in the UK?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

        Since when has winter tyre and snow chain legislation existed in the UK?

        That is my exact point. About time to introduce it. While there is no point making it mandatory for everyone, enforcing it specifically during warnings so that people heed the weather warning should do the job.

        As far as the legislation it does exist. The definition of "roadworthy vehicle" is up to the court and IS dependent on the actual road conditions. There is precedent - plod can start handing out tickets for "non-roadworthy vehicle" because you took a car in summers out on a road in the middle of a blizzard. The last time it was done by either Lancashire or South Yorkshire about 12-15 years ago (cannot remember, it made the beeb - you can find it). All tickets were upheld in court.

        However, instead of doing it once in a decade (and only when they get annoyed) it is better to codify it and get it done once and for all. If the met has said orange and you are in summers you really do not belong on the road. You are endangering everyone.

        1. Not also known as SC

          Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

          Never had winter tyres so genuine question - how hard is it to change from summer to winter tyres? Is it basically the same as having four spare wheels but with the other type of tyres? Would this be practical for a lot of motorists especially if winter tyres are only needed for four days every ten years or so (thinking of those without garages)? Although I understand where you are coming from would most people be prepared to pay this cost for the very small amount of time the winter tyres would be used?

          As for weather warnings, isn't a warning only a percentage chance of bad weather, i.e. not an indication of the severity? You could be in a red warning area and see nothing at all while someone in a yellow warning area gets hit by frozen rain resulting in far more treacherous conditions.

          1. Duffy Moon

            Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

            "how hard is it to change from summer to winter tyres? Is it basically the same as having four spare wheels but with the other type of tyres?"

            Yes, unless you want to pay a garage to change the tyres on your existing wheels.

            No, it would certainly not be practical unless you live in the mountains of Scotland or similar.

            I think a set of wheels with winter tyres would cost more than my car is worth. Some folks have no idea how much some of us struggle to make ends meet.

            1. no_handle_yet

              Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

              I noticed a big difference over the past few weeks with my newish set of cross climates. Probably not as good as full winters but a fraction of the cost of purchasing and storing a full set of wheels with winter tyres and certainly good enough for the type and frequency of winter weather we get in the north west of england.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

                I noticed a big difference over the past few weeks with my newish set of cross climates.

                Ditto. A joy to bimble past twats in German cars helplessly spinning their "high performance" tyres on the tiniest of slopes. Shouting "Vorsprung Durch Tecnic!" at one as I trundled past may not have been big or clever, but I derived some simple pleasure from it. I think there's a video freely availalbe of an Autocar test showing normal tyres versus cross climates versus full winter at the Tamworth snowdome - worth a gander.

                Having said that, you can still spin Cross Climates (and indeed full winter tyres) and get stuck, and to give their best most drivers still need good traction control. So mandating their fitting wouldn't change much unless the population HAVE to cope with regular snow, and then DO adapt their driving style, AND realise that even then, they aren't infallible. So all in all, we should accept that snow=chaos in lowland Britain.

                1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
                  Pint

                  Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

                  Pbswinger attempted, "...in German cars helplessly spinning... [and something suspiciously VW or Audi-ish]..."

                  Reportedly most, yes *most*, Mercedes sold in Canada are now the AWD 4Matic. Combined with Nokia studded ice tires, they're only stopped when the wheels leave the ground in foot-plus deep snow. Then you dig out and carry on.

                  Our house is down an icy hill, sometimes pure sheet of glossy ice. We commute daily up and down.

                  This year it's only snowed three times, and only needed plowing *once* (so far).

          2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

            NakaSC asked: "how hard is it to change from summer to winter tyres?"

            Canada here. We have some experience with this.

            Buy another set of four rims. Even if they're mediumly-expensive aftermarket alloys. Then you can change over to winter tires in your driveway.

            The point is not to save money in the long run (although that's almost more-or-less true). The point is that you can change to winter tires on your own schedule. Like when they announce a major snow storm is suddenly and unexpectedly arriving 'early' on the 10th of November, then the garages will be booked up until mid-December. The actual expense comes when you crash because you're forced to drive on icy roads with your useless summer tires. It's just easier to do it yourself. Takes maybe an hour.

            So it's best to purchase four additional rims, four studded ice tires (e.g. Nokian Hakkawhatevertheyrecalled), and an AWD car. Then you can go out in the middle of an ice storm and harass the SUV drivers by blowing them off at the lights. Or drive into and out of foot deep snow banks, in a comedically-capable AWD car (e.g. Mercedes 4Matic AWD). Or stop in the middle of an ice cover hill, and then accelerate away hard, up the icy hill.

            It's actually perfectly normal to have to drive through 6 or 8 inches of snow once in a while. More dangerous is the ice, because crashing is much worse than merely being a bit stuck.

            1. Not also known as SC

              Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

              "Then you can go out in the middle of an ice storm and harass the SUV drivers by blowing them off at the lights"

              This would make it worthwhile just on its own :-) My favourite is watching rear wheel drive cars trying to go up gentle inclines.

              If we start to get regular bad weather in the UK I might consider getting some winter or all season tyres eventually.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

              > Buy another set of four rims.

              Unfortunately, we in the UK have small houses with limited storage, so that' not an option for a lot of people - e.g. for new developments, a "large" 4 bedroom house will be around 90m^2 of total floorspace, and is unlikely to have a garage (and if it does, it's likely to be around 3m x 5m in size).

              > So it's best to purchase four additional rims, four studded ice tires

              Studded tires are, IIRC, illegal in the UK (are are snow chains if there's no snow/ice on the stretch of road you're driving on).

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

            "especially if winter tyres are only needed for four days every ten years or so"

            This is why we get the moaners saying "something must be done" when the UK gets a bit of snow every 5 or so years. It's simply not economic to provide all that equipment just to have it sit in storage for 5 years and then get used for a day or two before going back into storage.

            What we generally don't see in the UK news is the chaos a small amount of snow causes in many other places in the world who, like us, only get it once in a while.

          4. tiggity Silver badge

            Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

            Or the local authorities coukd do something useful with the council tax they receive and actually grit and plough roads (where I am only a few major roads cleared - big screw you to anyone else - went nesarly a week with no post as Royal Mail (whatever they call themselves these days) could not safely negotiate hilly areas)

            Chains are only much use if all roads snowy (do a lot of road surface damage on snow free roads) and - see above - people will find they drive on mix of snowy and clear surfaces.

            For the slightly infirm, swapping wheels, dealing with snow chains is not a readily viable option, so (to avoid disability / age discrimination) would need to have some free service to come and help out the less physically able avoid fines.

            As others have said - where will most people store 4 wheels most of the year?

            Without a garage or a mansion that's a lot of space taken up

            1. wolfetone Silver badge

              Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

              I'd just like to point out that if you fit winter tyres to your car, the insurance company see's it as being modified unless you notify them of the change.

              Ergo, any item that deviates from what the car had when it rolled off the factory makes the car modified. I read one such post today on another forum where a posters daughter had her insurance cancelled because some idiot who had the car before her painted the alloys with a rattle can.

              1. KjetilS

                Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

                You are wrong, unless the tires you put on are WILDLY out of spec for the car

                1. wolfetone Silver badge

                  Re: Can they do something more useful instead?

                  "You are wrong, unless the tires you put on are WILDLY out of spec for the car"

                  I am not wrong. Policy wording clearly states that a modification that results in the car being out of the spec it rolled off the factory line with.

                  If you buy a car with Bridgestone summer tyres, and then buy Goodyear summer tyres, they're in spec. As it's a summer tyre being replaced with a summer tyre.

                  IF you replace the summer tyre with a winter tyre, it's out of spec because the car never came with winter tyres in the first place and is a modification.

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    Stable

    This is unusual for government; shutting the stable door before the horse is even in it.

    When governments plan ahead it's usually because they can see revenue disappearing, they're worried about who to fine.

    1. no_handle_yet

      Re: Stable

      Not just revenue either. Tin foil hat time but I always worry when governments start throwing laws down to pave the way for a technology. "....automated vehicles have the potential to make them even safer..." They also have the potential for geo-fencing and remote kills. You thinking of going to that anti war demo. Not unless you walk, 10 mile geo-fence. Thinking of going picketing your employer this morning. Forget it, they applied for and got a banning order, with 10 mile geo-fence and a gagging order so you can't tell anyone. You're on benefits ? Sorry but people on benefits should only be allowed to drive to interviews. It's only fair that the tax payer doesn't pay for them to take nice drives in the country.

      It's always useful to ask what Thatcher would have done if she'd had the tech. The answer to that probably shows why it needs resisting.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stable

        It's always useful to ask what Thatcher would have done

        WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP! Beardy left wing twat alert!

        The woman left office just short of three decades go, and you saddos are still whining on about her. If she'd been the first female prime minister for the Labour party, you wankers would be worshipping her even if she'd done the same things in power.

        1. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: Stable

          Oh look an AC Thatch lover, scared of showing you are fascist with a nick name?

          .. Blair was almost as fascist as Thatch and he was Labour. So Labour does not always mean left wing

          More seriously, I member travel restrictions / "checks" during the miners strike causing major inconveniences (especially around Notts / Derbyshire / South Yorkshire) - essentially many groups of people traveling were assumed to be pickets / protesters and not allowed to proceed (in a notorious case an ameteur football team not allowed to go to the match as cops reckoned (with zero evidence) it was a cunning ruse and they were pickets with a cunning plan)

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Stable

      It's a self-bolting horse.

  6. andyp-random-number

    The number of laws we have...

    ...surely there is already one that would cover this? I mean, it's almost impossible to say how many laws effect the UK but between Scotland, England and Irish laws we must have one suitable one, then add the 49,000 or so passed by the EU, surely something fits?

    Perhaps they can't be bothered to look and it's easier to add another one :)

    I'm sure if I had a driver less car and crashed it (it crashed) someone would find a law just for me that I broke, so perhaps they're looking for a law that fits you lot!

    1. Ian Mason

      Re: The number of laws we have...

      > The number of laws we have surely there is already one that would cover this?

      Of course there are. Interference with vehicles contrary to section 9 of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 and offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

      Whenever we get new laws because of the "something must be done" crowd there is almost always existing legislation that is more general, better thought out and better tested in the courts.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: The number of laws we have...

        "Of course there are. Interference with vehicles contrary to section 9 of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 and offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990."

        The whole thing about speeding fines for self driving cars seems a bit of a red herring too. After all, they are only going to be allowed on the roads when they are "safe". If "safe" means driving to the road conditions, then should a self driving car with radar, lidar, optics etc not do 90 or a 100 down a clear motorway? If it's a "safe" car, it's not going to do 50mph past a school or anywhere there's parked cars and a restricted "view". A "safe" AV is going to slow down if it's "view" is obstructed in any way.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: The number of laws we have...

          But all those existing laws only apply in the UK.

          We need a new law that also applies to hackers in N. Korea or Russia

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: The number of laws we have...

            Whatever laws we come up with, nothing will apply to hackers in North Korea or Russia.

            And as we take back control, it's going to be more difficult to go after those ones in the EU too.

  7. SVV Silver badge

    Hackable?

    Because "all computers are"?

    If the government are seriously contemplating allowing, in any remote shape or form, car control software systems whereby the software can be updated in order to have patches applied to fix bugs then they are irresponsible morons and they should be held liable for any damages caused by their decision to let them on the roads. In fact the political party in power should have to pay, until the last penny has been drained from their party accounts, sale of their assets and their MPs personal accounts and assets. That should put a stop to it all before this stupidity is actually on our roads, and will stop the taxpayer having to stump up the cash, rather than the makers and nsurers and the politicians (which some of the companies involved may or may not also donate to).

    They shouldn't be hackable, because the software should be so bulletproof that it has zero errors that could threaten death or injury on the roads, and it should be on a ROM chip inside a very sturdy sealed unit which self destructs in a way that renders the car completely unusable if it is tampered with. That rules out the hacking problem for you government people, now go away and think about all the much more fundamental reasons why driverless cars are a fucking stupid idea.

  8. Not also known as SC

    Speeding Fines

    How can a driver-less car break the speed limit? Surely the maximum speed is set by the program designed into the vehicle. Aren't there going to be lots of wonderful sensors to detect speed limit signs, online connectivity etc to allow the vehicle to download lots of data which the vehicle will then use to determine where it is, traffic conditions, posted legal speed limit and then determine the maximum speed allowed?

    As to payment of fines for a speeding AV: If the program allows speeding then it is the program's manufacturer's fault. If the program has been 'modified' by the owner then it is the owner's fault (or whoever modified it on behalf of the owner)?

    1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Speeding Fines

      Because it is widely assumed that self-driving cars will be Perfectly Safe™, then there's really no need to impose pesky speed limits on them. Allow them to drive just as fast as their wee feisty silicon brains allow.

      Speed limits are for fallible humans, not Perfectly Safe™ self-driving cars. Right?

      If not, then we'd better revisit the assumption.

      1. Not also known as SC
        Pint

        Re: Speeding Fines

        I hope you're joking but I somehow suspect that you're right...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Speeding Fines

        "Speed limits are for fallible humans"

        Speed limits will be easy to enforce for driverless cars, so I wouldn't be surprised if we get geo-fenced 20mph zones in and around schools*, old people's homes, near parks, hospitals, shopping centres, pubs, bus stations, train stations, anywhere there might be a higher than average number of pedestrians bumbling about.

        *Good luck achieving more than 5mph near my kids school at the start or the end of the school day... driverless cars would probably *increase* the average speed of traffic flow there because I expect they'll be better at giving way to each other occasionally.

  9. Dwarf Silver badge

    So whats the point ???

    If you are not in control, but are accountable for the accuracy of someone else's code - in all conditions it may encounter, then why would you give up the ability to control your own destiny ?

    Does this also mean that you can't have a drink whilst the car drives for similar reasons ?

    If they take away the direct user interface, then what is the user supposed to do if something is going wrong and you realise - hit the big red reset button on the dashboard that inflates the interior and exterior airbags ?

    This is bonkers and shows why the technology is not ready for mainstream.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Dazed and Confused

    hacking drierless cars

    How about laws to handle hacking the current crop of human driven cars. There have already been proof of concept demos showing that critical car control systems can be accessed remotely. The hacker should be punished sure, but those responsible at the car company should be punished 10 fold, and it needs to be people not just the company, fines are too easy for companies to just pay.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    Jacked off

    It is good that 'nearly' for the first time a government, any government, is looking to create legislation for a technology something, in advance, albeit for the car jacking of driverless cars.

    What jacks me off is the fact it's MONEY not LIVES that is driving this action. The Insurance industry want to save money, not keep lives from harm.

    Crikey !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Jacked off

      " it's MONEY not LIVES that is driving this action."

      Believe it or not, a calculated value for human lives is sometimes used by parts of the aircraft industry. Fortunately, designs tend to be driven by people using proper design methodologies rather than just beancounting.

  13. The Empress

    Let's hope all the hackers and they successfully defend their actions in court as female empowerment for women in STEM.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NOT going to happen

    Insurance companies are not going to pay for AVs that crash due to programming errors - nor should they. Those who are rushing crapware on to the roadways for great profit have the same mentality as Microsucks who has been reaping billions in profits annually from selling defective OSs and software. Who's going to reboot the onboard PCs when they BSOD? Who's going to pay for the massive accidents, injuries and deaths when the AV operating systems crash and the vehicles do also? The manufacturers should absolutely be held responsible for product defects, aka programming errors and other defects. No AV makers should even be allowed to test their vehicle on public roadways until after the vehicles have been independently tested and certified by a qualified agency for safety, security, redundant and fail-safe systems.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I still find it quite odd that the UK allows driverless cars but Segways are still illegal...

  16. mark l 2 Silver badge

    After reading this article I realised that take up of driverless cars is going to be restricted to a certain set of people. I am not condoning their behaviour but there are a lot of people who currently drive and go over the speed limit, whether that be 35 in a 30 zone, 80 on the motorway etc and these people don't feel they are breaking the law by doing that. I don't see these people willing to swap there Audi/BMW etc for a driverless car which no doubt will be driving 1 or 2 mph under the speed limit to err on the side or caution?

  17. Paddy

    Fighting "planned" obsolescence.

    The government might need to aso ensure that customers can make software updates when a car manufacturer decides to "play dirty". I the Car's entertainment system software is updated , but a similar car with the same entertainment software package is not updated due to the company ceasing upgrades to that particular model; would it be allowed to update that software manually?

    How do customers avoid "planned" auto obsolescense by not making software updates updates available to some car models?

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: Fighting "planned" obsolescence.

      Stick to open source. With a robust dev community.

      Or, better, never own a car. Just summon one with your app when you need it. Advantage: the bigco managing a whole fleet of them is better-placed than the individual to ensure support doesn't get pulled.

      1. Paddy

        Re: Fighting "planned" obsolescence.

        > Stick to open source. With a robust dev community.

        And get car insurance from ... ?

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