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Code, culture and concrete: Self-driving vehicles and the rules of the road

Tennant, Chris; Neels, Chris; Parkhurst, Graham; Jones, Peter; Mirza, Saba; Stilgoe, Jack


Chris Tennant

Chris Neels

Peter Jones

Saba Mirza

Jack Stilgoe


Behaviour on the road is ordered by a range of norms, rules, laws, and infrastructures. The introduction of self-driving vehicles onto the road opens a debate about the rules that should govern their actions and how these should be integrated with, or lead to the modification of, existing road rules. In this paper, we analyse the current rules of the road, with a particular focus on the UK's Highway Code, in order to inform future rulemaking. We consider the full range of laws, norms, infrastructures, and technologies that govern interactions on the road and where these came from. The rules have a long history and they contribute to a social order that privileges some modes of mobility over others, reinforcing a culture of automobility that shapes lives, livelihoods and places. The introduction of self-driving vehicles, and the digital code on which they depend, could reorder the culture and concrete of our roads, by flattening the multidimensional rules of the road, hardening rules that are currently soft and standardising across diverse contexts. Future rule changes to accommodate self-driving vehicles may enable increases in safety and accessibility, but the trade-offs demand democratic debate.


Tennant, C., Neels, C., Parkhurst, G., Jones, P., Mirza, S., & Stilgoe, J. (2021). Code, culture and concrete: Self-driving vehicles and the rules of the road. Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, 3, Article 710478.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 20, 2021
Online Publication Date Nov 18, 2021
Publication Date Nov 18, 2021
Deposit Date Oct 27, 2021
Publicly Available Date Nov 18, 2021
Journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities
Print ISSN 2624-9634
Electronic ISSN 2624-9634
Publisher Frontiers Media
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Article Number 710478
Keywords digital highway code, legal pluralism, automated vehicles, self-driving cars, rules, governance
Public URL


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