Following the conclusion of the joint Law Commissions' review and its recommendations on legal reforms for automated vehicles earlier this year, the Government has now responded whilst consulting on next steps for Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM).
In doing so, the UK has acknowledged and expressly accepted the vast majority of the Law Commissions' legislative recommendations whilst picking up the gauntlet in other areas by consulting on a number of policy themes. Principal among these is the question of what does "safe enough" mean and look like when it comes to automated vehicles?
The 142 page combined response, policy and consultation paper draws together a large number of key policies, reviews and current competitions and workstreams to demonstrate how the UK is preparing and putting in place a comprehensive regulatory, legislative and safety framework for self-driving vehicles from 2025. These inputs include:
- The Law Commissions' recommendations;
- The DfT's Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy;
- The DfT's Automated Lane Keeping Systems consultation;
- The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation's (CDEI) report on "Responsible Innovation for Self-Driving Vehicles"
- The DfT's Transport and Transport Technology public attitudes tracker surveys;
- The Government's call for evidence on the future of CAM; and
- The Government's proposals to create a Road Safety Investigation Branch
The Government's proposals and "Theory of Change" to 2025 is distilled into 3 pillars of activity:
- Ensuring safety and security of CAM (for which see more below);
- Securing the industrial and economic benefits of CAM - in particular the announcement of £100m investment (including the £40m previously announced this year) to kickstart commercial deployments; and
- Delivering the societal benefits of CAM through greater research and engagement with the public, as well as commitment to promote and align CAM with wider future transport strategies.
In respect of safety and security, the two key objectives will be to implement a comprehensive regulatory and legislative framework and a safety assurance framework. In this respect the 'structural' aspects of the Law Commissions' recommendations in respect of approval, authorisation, in-use regulation and licensing of vehicles and operators have been accepted, with the Connected and Automated Vehicles: Process for Assuring Safety and Security (CAVPASS) programme guiding the development of the safety framework.
Crucially, safety and security will be assured through a "safety by design" approach with continuous monitoring and improvement under the umbrella of a guiding "Safety Ambition" and a set of "National Safety Principles" (the latter of which will be given statutory guidance status like the Highway Code). Recognising the need to retain safety gains, foster public acceptance and realise additional safety benefits without stifling innovation, the Government proposes the Safety Ambition that fundamentally "self-driving vehicles would be expected to achieve an equivalent level of safety to that of a competent and careful human driver".
(Source: HM Government, Connected & Automated Mobility 2025: Realising the benefits of self-driving vehicles in the UK, under the Open Government Licence v3.0)
The Government's intention is that the majority of primary legislation needed will be introduced in the 2022-23 Parliamentary session as part of the pre-announced Transport Bill (which is shaping up to be a generationally significant piece of legislation on a great number of fronts). Primary legislation will include powers to make secondary legislation which is particularly important for emerging areas of technical complexity. Additionally, as is characteristic of transport and automotive regulation, there will also necessarily remain heavy reliance on technical standards and guidance.
The detailed paper sets out an ambitious programme of reform but maps out the intensive work underway to support the legislative intent. For the CAM industry, it is a powerful affirmation that Government is committed to playing its part in realising the benefits of CAM in the UK.
The consultation is open for responses until 14 October 2022.
Self-driving vehicle technologies and services will not be successful in the UK without a robust regulatory framework that provides certainty for innovators and investors, as well as confidence for the public that the technologies are safe, secure and work in the interests of society.