New BSI guidance could form basis of UK’s autonomous vehicle laws

Out-Law News | 30 Nov 2021 | 9:44 am | 1 min. read

New guidance on how to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) could form the basis of future laws governing the safe use of the technology on public roads, according to a transport industry expert.

Ben Gardner of Pinsent Masons said the guidance, issued by the British Standards Institution (BSI), was needed to “plug the gaps” in current UK legislation on a range of issues in the AV sector – including cybersecurity.

“Trying to pass any kind of law in this area is proving very slow, and technological advances are moving very quickly, so there isn’t much time to put in rules in place for the testing of autonomous vehicles on the road network,” Gardner said.

“The BSI’s guidance is not legally binding, so if a business chooses not to follow it then they are not necessarily breaking the law,” said Gardner. “But it is used to try and guide what industry best practice might look like, and it has been suggested that some of the standard could become the foundation for future legislation.”

The BSI’s latest framework, PAS (Publicly Available Specification) 1884, covers the use of safety operators in automated vehicle testing and contains a comprehensive strategy for training new safety operators, including fitness tests and limits on working hours.

Gardner Ben

Ben Gardner

Senior Associate

At the end of the day, accidents during trials could ultimately delay the rollout of the technology because we could lose public confidence.

Gardner, who was among the panel of experts tasked with drafting PAS 1884, said it helped to remove “grey areas” around how AVs should be trialled.

He cited the 2018 case of a US woman struck and killed by an Uber-owned self-driving car as she crossed a road in Tempe, Arizona.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the car’s safety operator had been streaming a TV show on her smartphone at the time of the crash.

“That is an example of very bad practice, and the BSI’s new standards are there to try and stop things like that happening in the UK,” Gardner said.

Gardner said the new standard could also help boost public confidence in AV technology as it begins to enter the UK marketplace.

Research conducted by the BSI found that 59% of people would feel more confident as a passenger in an automated vehicle knowing an onboard safety operator could take control or intervene in an emergency.

More than 40% of the 1,000 people surveyed said the presence of a safety operator would make them feel more confident as a pedestrian.

“At the end of the day, accidents during trials could ultimately delay the rollout of the technology because we could lose public confidence,” Gardner said.

“That is why setting these safety standards is so important,” he added.