On 20 February 2023, the Law Commission responded to the Government’s request for legal review of the current laws on remote driving and recommendations for reform.

The possibility and potential of remote driving have grown as communications and vehicle technology has developed. The potential is partly seen through the legalisation of remote parking but future potential use cases envisage full 'beyond line-of-sight' functionality.  However, on the essential question of whether or not the law actually requires a 'driver' to be in the vehicle, there has been a degree of uncertainty to date.

The Law Commission’s reforms revolve around remote driving vehicles (RDVs) – this is where an individual not in the vehicle (and beyond its line-of-sight) is in control of the vehicle operating on public roads. This should not be confused with automated vehicles (AVs), which have software fulfilling the driver functions.  The Law Commissions' separate proposals are that such AVs that don't require a human fallback driver on board (or 'user-in-charge') are licensed under a 'No User-In-Charge Operator' (NUICO) regime which will include any remote driving component of operation.

In total, the Law Commission came to 21 conclusions (reforms and recommendations) within their report. Below, we provide an overview of some of these.

Legal Facilitation of RDVs

In the short-term, the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 should be amended to include a new prohibition. Namely, beyond line-of-sight remote driving should only be allowed if there is an in-vehicle safety driver. This clarifies a grey area in the law and would introduce a clear prohibition unless there is a ‘Vehicle Special Order’ (VSO) in place. Any such VSO should modify Regulation 104 (to require control in accordance with the safety case) and disapply Regulation 107.

In the longer term, a new statutory licensing scheme should be formed for companies deploying RDVs. Whilst vehicles using remote driving as an add-on to self-driving would fall under automated vehicle licensing requirements (which operate under the NUICO system); any vehicle conducting ‘independent’ remote driving would need to get a separate licence as an ‘Entity for Remote Driving Operation’ (ERDO).

Under the Law Commission’s recommendations, it would be an offence to drive (or cause or permit a person to drive) a vehicle beyond line-of-sight, on a road or other public place, unless the vehicle is overseen by a licensed ERDO or NUICO.

Recommendations made by the Law Commission on ERDO licences are similar in principle to those for NIUCOs and include:

  1. Any ERDO licensee should be of good repute, appropriate financial standing, conduct its operations within Great Britain, and be professionally competent.
  2. ERDO duties should be determined on a case-by-case basis – these would be specified in the ERDO license provided
  3. The duration of an ERDO licence should be set in secondary legislation – initially, at 5 years
  4. ERDO licensees must hold no-fault insurance (more below).

Other recommendations

In addition to the above, the following conclusions should be of interest to stakeholders within the industry:

  1. RDVs require robust regulation and licensing – to obtain an ERDO license, the manufacturer should be able to provide a “safety case”. For example, they should demonstrate that the system adequately safeguards against the risk of any network connection loss or cyberattack (and mitigates the harm should the worst-case scenario eventuate). The safety case should also detail steps taken in areas such as staff training (to mitigate concerns such as the remote operator’s lack of situational awareness and detachment.)
  2. Legal definition of an RDV “driver” – must meet the following criteria
    • Performs at least one of the following – (1) steering, (2) braking, releasing a brake, or accelerating, or (3) monitoring with a view to immediate and safety-critical intervention in the way the vehicle drives.
    • Is outside the vehicle and relies on external aids to understand the environment in which the RDV is operating within.
  3. Prohibition of remote operators based abroad – this would, for now, be achieved by not granting VSOs to any safety case that include such a proposal. In the longer term, legislation should be adopted to criminalise such conduct. Naturally, the legislation would provide for exceptions where the UK has an international agreement with countries enabling effective enforcement of the licensing scheme.
  4. Victims of accidents involving RDVs should be entitled to no-fault compensation. In this way, the regime will be similar to that of AVs (Part 1 of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018). Thus, the manufacturer would be required to hold no-fault insurance; though the compensation may be limited by contributory negligence (by the ‘victim’), and the insurer maintains the right to bring secondary claims.

Next Steps

The Government’s response to the Law Commission’s paper is eagerly awaited.

If you’d like to discuss the Law Commission’s report, please contact Brian Wong.

This article was written by Brian Wong and Callum Duckmanton.