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Published 28 May 2021
On Friday, DAC Beachcroft submitted its response to the DfT’s consultation on changes to The Highway Code, intended to support the safe use of ALKS and to ensure clear responsibility between the driver and the vehicle.
The DfT’s consultation proposes the addition of a new section to the Highway Code, consisting of four paragraphs, to set out expectations for users of automated vehicles, bring together the relevant rules for automated vehicles and make the Code reflect the changing technology available on the roads.
This consultation comes in the wake of the DfT’s 2020 consultation on ALKS (view our response here) and is expected to sit alongside the Law Commission’s forthcoming recommendations on AVs and the law, due to be released at the end of 2021.
In our response to this consultation, we have focused on three key points:
1 ALKS is not automated driving
The government has made it clear that it plans on allowing ALKS-equipped vehicles on UK roads by the end of the year and classifying them as capable of automated driving for the purposes of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018.
In our response to the 2020 consultation, we urged caution and restraint and we have done so again.
Whilst ALKS provides a tremendous opportunity for vehicle safety to move forward by potentially reducing the number of human-led accidents, it has not yet demonstrated the technological advancement required to classify it as capable of safe self-drive and should be classified as advanced driver assist. There are obvious safety risks in classifying ALKS-equipped vehicles as capable of automated driving.
2 The proposed changes to the Highway Code need to be revised
Even if our headline point on ALKS is not accepted, the DfT’s proposed amendments as they appear in the consultation paper need to be revised to take into consideration the guiding safety principles behind the Code, the advice given by experts and the evidence provided on the capabilities of ALKS, including by the government’s own ministers.
Our response has provided a suggested revision to better reflect the Highway Code’s commitment to safety and ALKS’s technological limitations. In particular we have attacked the proposed wording stating that drivers need not pay attention to the road whilst the vehicle is in ALKS mode.
3 The proposed changes to the Highway Code are inadequate
The additions the DfT proposes to the Highway Code will not suffice to allow the legalised use of ALKS by British motorists. Several rules within the Code and many provisions in statute and regulations will need to be amended before motorists can use the technology without risking facing prosecution for a variety of offences. There are obvious knock-on consequences in criminal convictions, penalties and insurance costs as well as reputational risks if these changes are not properly thought through.
Our response has listed the Highway Code rules, the Acts and Regulations that will need to be changed to allow for effective legal implementation of automated vehicles.
We have done our best to make the proposed wordings for the Highway Code workable and to resolve the conflict with other provisions in the Code and in road traffic law; but we have also urged the government to give very careful consideration to whether their understandable desire to make rapid technological progress in this field has caused them to downplay the obvious reasons for not designating ALKS-equipped vehicles as being listed as capable of automated driving at all.
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