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Consultation on Driverless Vehicles

Published On: 18 July 2016

Trailed by reference to a Modern Transport Bill in the Queen's speech in May, on 11 July the Department for Transport's Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles released a consultation paper seeking industry-wide stakeholder responses on proposed regulatory changes to enable the development of both advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and automated vehicle technologies (AVT) in a safe and proportionate manner.

When it comes to the case for autonomous vehicle development, the UK is already well down the road. The benefits are compelling – safer roads, less congestion and cheaper fuel bills, alongside increased mobility for non-drivers. Thus far, manufacturers engaged in the development of AVT have been encouraged by the UK's balanced approach to regulation. The consultation paper acknowledges the huge potential gains which the development of AVT can deliver for the UK economy over the coming decades, and the need to avoid putting unnecessary barriers in place.

This consultation was already trailed by Andrew Jones, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, well before the EU referendum. However the plans assume new importance in the wake of the vote to leave: the UK is already ahead of the rest of Europe in its thinking and planning in this area and AVT represents a great opportunity for inwards investment into the UK from around the world as well as from European companies.

In setting out the government's proposals for regulatory reform in what is a fast developing area, and in heralding the next phase of the UK government's 'Pathway to Driverless Cars' initiative, the consultation acknowledges that this is far from a one-step process. Instead, it refers to 'regulating in waves of reform' over the next few years, allowing itself maximum agility as the process of evolution from semi-autonomous to fully autonomous vehicle technologies becomes a reality on Britain's roads, whilst safeguarding public trust and confidence in the concept of AVT. To this end the government proposes to consult again following implementation of its initial proposals.

The paper sets out three distinct issues for consultation:

  • A new insurance framework to enable autonomous vehicles to be used legally on Britain's roads, where the driver can effectively come 'out of the loop' for part / all of the journey. This will involve a product liability component to be included within a standard motor policy, whilst retaining a liability component for when the vehicle is being controlled by a human driver - Requires primary legislation, by way of amendment to the Road Traffic Act.
  • A new regulatory framework to facilitate 'near-to-market' ADAS technologies such as motorway assistance systems, remote control parking and basic vehicle platooning – Requires delegated legislation, by way of amendment to the Road Vehicle (Construction & Use) Regulations.
  • Consumer guidance regarding the safe operation of ADAS to mitigate against driver distractions – Requires amendment of the Highway Code.

DAC Beachcroft has formulated a multi-disciplinary team of lawyers (including product, data/cyber and regulatory specialists) to advise our clients on the very wide range of issues emanating from the development of AVT; we will be issuing a response to the consultation which closes on 9 September. You can access a copy of the document by clicking on the following link: