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Driverless cars must work for wheelchair users, says Bar Council

By Jemma Slingo  >>

Driverless cars could ‘contribute to further isolation and exclusion’ among disabled and elderly people if they are not designed properly, the Bar Council has warned, calling for regulation to prescribe minimum accessibility standards.

Responding to a consultation on automated vehicles by the Law Commission, the Bar Council says a ‘clear policy steer’ is needed to ensure vehicles such as self-driving taxis are designed with disabled users in mind.

It states: ‘On balance, we agree that national minimum accessibility standards should be developed for highly automated road passenger services (HARPS). We consider that a sensible approach may be to develop guidance which is subsequently embedded into regulation…The concern as to stifling innovation should not be at the expense of accessibility.’

The Bar Council also suggests bolstering the regulation dealing price discrepancies between accessible and non-accessible taxis. ‘Whilst we would not want to stifle the business case for the expansion of HARPS by imposing onerous legal requirements, consideration could be given to ways of mitigating the risk of potential price discrimination against those with disabilities,’ it said.

‘One option could be to consider prohibiting the price differentials… by regulating that such treatment is a breach of the duty to make adjustments.’ It adds that the operators of driverless cars should gather data about users to ensure disabled and older people are not being excluded.

In its consultation, the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission suggested that no powers be put in place to restrict the numbers of self-driving service vehicles in a particular area. However, the Bar Council says that this should be kept under review in case numbers become ‘unmanageable’.

The Law Commission is currently reviewing the regulatory framework around automated vehicles in the UK. It aims to provide final recommendations next year.

(Courtesy: Law Gazette Society)