Automated vehicles, ‘driverless cars’ & remote control parking and motorway assist – two December 2017 updates

Posted 20/12/2017 : By: Tim Ridyard

The Law Commission has announced ‘automated vehicles’ as one of 14 areas of the law viewed as requiring review and reform.

This is unsurprising given the changes to society the new technology will bring. The Law Commission is a statutory body that looks at areas requiring reform or simplification and makes recommendations, where necessary. Regarding its intended three year project looking at automated vehicles it states:

“Driverless cars and other automated vehicles are being trialled by tech experts across the world. But before technology races ahead, we need to make sure the law is on the right track.

With plans for significant public engagement, our three year project will aim to promote public confidence in the safe use of automated vehicles, and to ensure the UK has a vibrant and world-leading automated vehicles industry.

We will undertake a far-reaching review of the regulatory framework for road-based automated vehicles, with a view to promoting their safe development and use by 2021. Our review will consider where there may be gaps or uncertainty in the law, and what forms may be necessary to ensure the regulatory framework is fit for the future.”

The new technology will require significant changes to existing laws and new provisions to cover, not only cars, but other goods and passenger vehicles that will engage in journeys where the whole or part of the route will be driven in fully automated mode (i.e. the driver only has responsibility when the automated system is not active) or other levels of automation.

One area already being addressed relates to insurance cover for automated vehicles where they are driving themselves. Legislation that will extend vehicle insurance to cover product liability is already before Parliament, intended to protect not only third parties but also the person who has handed over control to the automated vehicle (own vehicle).

How will the law treat ‘drivers’ when control is handed over to the vehicle? What obligations will they still have in terms of needing to or being actually required to take back control of the vehicle in certain situations?

The development of this technology recognises that there are different levels of automation and two main types of driver responsibility: driver only, driver assistance, partially automated and conditionally automated modes are where drivers have responsibility at all times; in highly automated or fully automated vehicles the driver only has responsibility if the automated system is not active.

Some of the practical consequences of needing to find solutions to ensure partially automated vehicles can be used lawfully are contained in the new Remote Control Parking and Motorway Assist published by the Department for Transport on 19 December 2017. This sets out proposed changes to current Construction and Use regulations and to the Highway Code, so that a driver can park a vehicle when no longer inside the vehicle, including amendments to necessary mobile phone / other interactive device rules to carry this out.

It also highlights how drivers are obliged, if using remote parking applications or advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as Motorway Assist, to continue to exercise full control over the systems at all times without any reduction in concentrations levels. (Motorway Assist controls the speed and vehicles position on high-speed roads such as motorways)

The movement of goods by automated vehicles or vehicles that sometimes are in an automated mode is also being developed.

There are trials for “platooning” which is where large goods vehicles move in convoy along the road and can be joined by other vehicles and which are communicating to each other wirelessly, governing speed and braking for example.

If such vehicles are manned but are being operated wirelessly how will the law apply to the ‘drivers’? How will drivers’ hours rules apply? How ultimately will the automation of goods vehicles affect fleets in terms of the number of drivers required?

The issues, questions and legal issues are numerous and may require a huge re-think in terms of how private individuals use their vehicles and how fleets operate. The reality is that over the next few years automation, combined with the implementation of alternatively fuelled vehicles, will have a significant impact, not only in practice, but in terms of legislation and regulations that we will continue to update you about. 

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