As part of its Future of Transport review, the Government issued on 28 September 2021 a series of consultations (closing date 22 November 2021) including two on:
Regulatory 'sandboxes' involve designating a prescribed space where new business models, technologies and policies can be safely deployed and tested. Properly deployed they provide a powerful tool to introduce and trial new innovations and develop effective regulation ahead of their introduction to the world outside the sandbox. They have previously been used effectively by regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority.
Given the body of fragmented and dated regulation in respect of surface transport modes in particular there is much potential for the use of sandboxes to test surface transport innovations. Indeed, at one stage, many in the transport technology and intelligent mobility world had harboured hopes that the Future Mobility Zones created by the Government would include such sandbox components. This latest consultation now potentially offers the route to that.
Beyond sandboxes, the Government also has its sights set on modernising vehicle standards. Part of this involves a review of retained EU Law in this area and opportunities to amend or repeal or replace them as trailed in the Government's response to its Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRRR) report. Part of it is also the recognition that the Road Traffic Act 1988 may no longer be keeping pace with new automotive technology, software and cyber-security matters and recognising that there is a shift of vehicle focus beyond the point of market deployment to include their in-use characteristics and in-use market surveillance.
And finally, ahead of the final report of the Law Commissions' Automated Vehicles review and consultations (expected late 2021), proposals include an entirely new approval scheme for automated vehicles. This has been something that has had the overwhelming support of consultees to date and on which a lot of technical work is underway.
Taken all together, from late 2021 onwards these consultations and reports are pointing to significant regulatory change coming for surface transport.
Innovation can disrupt the status quo and challenge the way things have been done previously. It can quickly outpace regulation. Regulations then create barriers that prevent the meaningful deployment of new technologies. Innovators and regulators need support to help break new ground in a way that is safe and responsible.