In the recent Queen's Speech, Government announced the UK's commitment to 'improve transport across the United Kingdom, delivering safer, cleaner services and enabling more innovations'. As part of this commitment, the Transport Bill (the Bill) was announced as part of the package of new legislation accompanying the Queen's Speech, which aims to 'keep the UK at the forefront of transport innovation', including 'introducing new laws that safely enable self-driving and remotely operated vehicles and vessels, support the roll-out of electric vehicle charge points and enabling the licensing of London pedicabs'.
Speaking in the House of Lords on 11 May 2022, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Transport, Baroness Vere, provided a further outline of the UK's plans and commitment to growth in the area of automated vehicles, noting that the Bill intended to place the UK at the forefront of the automated vehicle sector through:
- introducing comprehensive legislation and new safety standards;
- assigning legal responsibility to protect users of self-driving vehicles and others;
- establishing new legal entities to take responsibility for autonomous vehicles (removing liability from the occupants of vehicles in the event of issues and ensuring vehicles remain safe); and
- the delivery of an EV infrastructure-strategy to ensure the wider rollout of electronic charging points.
These proposals align with the joint recommendations recently put forward by the Law Commissions relating to the future of Automated Vehicles, which similarly advocate for both comprehensive and uniform legislative and safety standards, as well as the establishment of new legal entities responsible for ensuring the safety of the vehicle and assuming legal accountability in the event of incidents, providing the driver with defences against legal liability relating to the way the vehicle drives when automated driving is activated.
Whilst the specifics of the Bill itself are yet to be determined, the emphasis placed on the development of a concrete legal framework for Automated Vehicles indicates that reform in this area is imminent. With the Law Commission’s’ recommendations providing a regulatory roadmap for implementation, Government looks now set to introduce the necessary legislative developments and safety standards to bring automated vehicles into the mainstream. It remains to be seen whether all the recommendations of the Law Commissions will be adopted by Government, or indeed whether additional standards may be introduced, but it is clear that developments in this area remain a high priority for Government within the transport sector.
Burges Salmon provided detailed responses to each of the Law Commissions’ three consultations, many of which are reflected in the Law Commissions’ summary and final report. Burges Salmon also established the Connected and Automated Mobility All Party Parliamentary Group (CAM APPG) alongside AXA UK.
This blog post was written by Isaac Bedi.
The Bill will place the UK at the forefront of self-driving vehicle safety. It is a market set to be worth nearly £42 billion by 2035, creating 38,000 skilled jobs. But this is possible only through comprehensive legislation, which will enable the Government to set new safety standards and assign legal responsibilities to protect users of self-driving vehicles, as well as those on the streets around them.