Road users may be able to operate driverless technology on motorways as soon as next year, as part of government plans detailed in a new consultation.

It is expected that manufacturers will begin selling more advanced vehicles, which are able to avoid collisions, maintain lane discipline and take control of the vehicles speed and steering, from 2021.

However, concerns have already been raised on responsibility for accidents. While drivers will have to remain vigilant and ready to regain control at any point, it has been argued that the technology provider becomes responsible for an accident once the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) is engaged.

"All road users will need to be fully up-to-speed on what driverless technology can do, and its limitations. We fear that without this, we may see drivers – and other road users – becoming complacent, which can have fatal consequences."

Harriet Mearns-Thomas, Thompsons Solicitors

While research from the Department for Transport found that driverless technology could improve reliability and reduce journey times, there remain fears that they could lead to slower reactions and complacency if the systems pass control back to the driver while in transit.

Harriet Mearns-Thomas, at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Driverless technology certainly has potential benefits and, the more it is trialed, the more we can understand what needs to be done as we move towards this new model of transportation.

“What we do not want to see, however, is the UK - led by a government that seems part naive and part gung-ho about the ‘benefits’ of there being no EU regulation post-Brexit -rushing into what will be a radical new approach. The hidden agenda here may be the government wanting the UK to become a test track for driverless juggernauts without the appropriate analysis and, more importantly, education for road users.

“All road users will need to be fully up-to-speed on what driverless technology can do, and its limitations. We fear that without this, we may see drivers – and other road users – becoming complacent, which can have fatal consequences.

“There also needs to be clear guidance on responsibility should an accident happen. We know first-hand that insurers will seek to avoid liability by exploiting any potential loopholes, so it must be the case that insurers are automatically liable for damage caused by an automated vehicle.”