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Watching TV from behind the wheel of a self-driving car to be allowed under UK law

Watching TV from behind the wheel of a self-driving car to be allowed under UK law

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Although there are currently no such vehicles available in the UK

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An example infotainment screen in the (not currently self-driving) Tesla Model 3.
An example infotainment screen in the (not currently self-driving) Tesla Model 3.
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Drivers in the UK will effectively be allowed to watch TV while behind the wheel of a self-driving car, under new rules announced by the country’s Department for Transport. Although drivers are currently restricted from viewing “non-driving related content” on a “television-receiving apparatus,” this rule would be waived under specific circumstances once the proposals come into force. The new rules are set to be introduced into the UK’s Highway Code over the summer, according to BBC News

The ability to watch TV comes with some restrictions. A car will need to be driving itself at the time, and the driver must be ready to take back control of the vehicle if required. Importantly, drivers will only be allowed to view content “through the vehicle’s built-in infotainment apparatus.” The thinking here is that an infotainment system can stop showing a TV show or film when the car needs the driver’s attention, unlike a phone. Using a handheld phone while driving, regardless of its use, will remain illegal.

It’ll still be illegal to use a mobile phone while driving

But perhaps the most significant restriction is that the new rules only apply to cars that are registered as self driving under British law, and the page listing such vehicles is currently conspicuously empty. At present, there are no self-driving vehicles listed for use in Great Britain,” it reads. However, the Department for Transport optimistically thinks that the first such vehicles could be ready for use “later this year,” although the exact technical standard a car will need to achieve to be called “self-driving” is currently unclear.

The proposed rules do make clear, though, that “self-driving” is different from cars with “assisted driving features,” which can handle some driving tasks but leave the driver responsible overall. Examples of these include cruise control and lane-keeping assistance.

The new rules are meant as an interim measure ahead of a full regulatory framework that’s due to be introduced in 2025. As well as changing the rules about screen-use, the Highway Code is also being updated to clarify the important differences between self-driving and driving assistance technologies, and will also offer more details on the rules that still apply to a driver even when behind the wheel of a self driving car (such as being within the legal limits of intoxication). 

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