Out-Law News 3 min. read

UK sets vision for self-driving vehicles by 2025

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A raft of new legislation will be required to deliver the UK’s vision for self-driving vehicles, an expert in the future of mobility has said.

Ben Gardner of Pinsent Masons was commenting after the government said it is working towards self-driving vehicles being operational on UK public roads by 2025 (142-page / 6.5MB PDF).

The government outlined its vision for self-driving vehicles in a new paper that detailed its response to recommendations made by the Law Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission earlier this year. It confirmed that it intends to put in place “a robust regulatory framework” to support commercialisation of self-driving vehicle technologies and services.

“It is a positive move for the UK’s connected and automated mobility (CAM) sector that the government is now looking to introduce legislation that regulates the use of connected and automated vehicles on the UK road network,” said Gardner. “The announcement will provide organisations with confidence that frameworks will be put in place to permit the deployment of advanced transport and mobility technologies at scale and enable new products and services to be made available.”

“However, the scale of the task is huge. There will need to be new legislation introduced to expressly deal with a wide range of issues that CAM creates – including vehicle approvals, liability for accidents, cybersecurity and the use of personal data. In addition to this, existing laws may need amending or repealing altogether to remove obstacles to the deployment of technologies which were not in existence at the time they were drafted. Fortunately, the efforts of the Law Commissions over the past few years provide a sound blueprint for what a future regulatory system might look like in the UK.”

In January, following a review lasting more than three years, the Law Commissions proposed that a new Automated Vehicles Act be developed to regulate automated vehicles on roads or other public places in Britain.

The efforts of the Law Commissions over the past few years provide a sound blueprint for what a future regulatory system for connected and automated mobility might look like in the UK

Under their proposals, there would be distinct regulatory regimes for self-driving vehicles where someone would sit in the driving seat and be able to take manual control over the vehicle – a so-called ‘user-in-charge’ – and for ‘no user-in-charge’ vehicles where journeys could be completed without on-board human intervention. The law would also distinguish between vehicle features that merely aid drivers, such as adaptive cruise control, and those that deliver self-driving. Self-driving vehicles would be subject to a new authorisation scheme before they could be used in Britain.

Manufacturers or developers would need to make the safety case for the use of the self-driving vehicles, and regulators would need to be assured that the vehicle “has obtained approval (through one of the GB whole vehicle approval schemes); can drive itself safely and legally even if an individual is not monitoring the driving environment, the vehicle or the way it drives; can record location data for detected collision events and [automated driving system] activation/ deactivation; and is supported by a suitable [authorised self-driving entity] which has demonstrated its ability to comply with relevant laws (including laws on data protection and environmental protection)”, according to the Law Commissions’ plans.

They further recommended that new criminal offences be introduced for manufacturers or developers of vehicles featuring driver aids that claim that they enable self-driving on public roads when their vehicles have not been authorised for self-driving.

The government has now said that it intends to take forward the Law Commissions’ proposals for new legislation in a new Transport Bill within the next year. Further secondary legislation is expected to follow – it will specify much of the detail of the regulatory regime.

The government is planning for the new regulatory framework and new approval scheme, which will include an appeals process, to be operational by 2025. It said it is anticipating “commercial deployment pilots” of self-driving technologies in 2023 and 2024. The government has pledged £100 million of new R&D funding to support commercial deployment of connected and self-driving technologies and the creation of a safety assurance framework.

Gardner said: “The challenge will now be allocating the resource within government to support the drafting and introduction of the required laws and amendments to realise the UK’s CAM ambitions. Due to the UK’s parliamentary system this will take time and require inputs and approvals from a wide range of stakeholders which may result in a protracted process from the point of inception to the time of implementation and enactment.”

“To add to this, as the laws are being created the technology those laws are designed to regulate will be evolving at pace so legislators will essentially be trying to ‘shoot a moving target’. This could bring about further challenges for the government but, irrespective of the challenges, the move towards a formal regulatory framework for CAM is welcomed and will provide a boost to the UK’s established automotive, transportation and technology sectors,” he said.

Future of mobility
The way we move is changing radically – climate change, superfast telecoms networks, electrification, AI and digital payments are rewriting the transport rulebook. Autonomous and shared vehicles and mobility as a service are fast becoming a reality.
Future of mobility
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