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Law Commissions look to future of self-driving vehicles

16 October 2019

The Scottish Law Commission and the Law Commission of England and Wales have proposed a new regulatory regime aimed at ensuring certain self-driving vehicles are safe, accessible and meet wider transport goals set by local and central Government.

Specifically, they have produced a consultation paper that focuses on how completely automated trips might be supplied to the public in vehicles that can travel empty or only with passengers and no driver or user-in-charge. We refer to these as Highly Automated Road Passenger Services (HARPS).

The consultation paper asks a series of questions to examine the types of changes that may be required to regulate HARPS. These include:

• Whether HARPS should be subject to a new, single, national system of operator licensing?
If so, what obligations should fall on HARPS operators? For example, they consider obligations relating to maintenance, remote supervision and the reporting of accidents.
• Who should these obligations fall on when a passenger-only vehicle is privately-owned?
• How can it be ensured that HARPS are accessible?
• What regulatory tools should be used to control congestion and cruising?
• How should HARPS be integrated with public transport?

This is the Law Commissions’ second consultation paper published on potential future regulation for automated vehicles, and is a major milestone in the three-year review commissioned by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

The Law Commissions are reviewing driving legislation to prepare for the introduction of self-driving vehicles on UK roads.

Caroline S Drummond, Commissioner at the Scottish Law Commission said: “Our aim is to ensure that these new self-driving cars are safe and can help to meet the objectives set by local and central Government.”

“Self-driving vehicles could make a particularly big difference for people who are currently unable or unwilling to drive. It is essential that the views of disabled and older people are considered from the start. We invite views from a wide range of stakeholders on how such services should be regulated to achieve these aims and benefit society as a whole.”

Nicholas Paines QC, Commissioner at the Law Commission of England and Wales said: “Self-driving cars have the potential to revolutionise mass transit by enhancing safety, efficiency and accessibility.”

“Responses to our consultation are vital for ensuring that our proposed regulatory framework will allow the full potential of self-driving cars to be realised, and we hope as many people as possible will respond.”

George Freeman, UK Minister for the Future of Transport said: “We are on the cusp of a quiet revolution in the technology of transport and mobility. Automated navigation and digital control technology have the potential to transform the way traffic is managed, improving road safety, reducing congestion and pollution and improving accessibility for people with mobility issues.

“The UK is a world leader in this technology and Government is investing over £250 million to support industry research and trials to ensure the technology is introduced onto our roads in the safest way.

“We also intend to lead the work in setting the right regulatory standards. That’s why we are conducting a major Regulatory Review on the Future of Mobility and recently launched a new project to create the world’s first safety scheme for self-driving vehicles, CAV PASS, and have commissioned the Law Commissions to look into the legal and regulatory requirements for this technology.

“I welcome the Law Commissions’ second consultation into self-driving vehicles, as we continue to explore how this exciting technology could benefit the whole of society.”

• You can find the consultation paper here

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