The Law Commission has recently published their analysis of responses to their (second) consultation paper on automated vehicles.

Summary

Key issues and emergent themes from stakeholder responses included the following:

  • Legal Responsibility: on the issue of legal responsibility (in the absence of a driver) for insurance, roadworthiness and responsibility for installing updates - the clear preference is for the legal "keeper" of the vehicle to bear this risk. This raised a number of "edge" use case issues for which concerns were flagged; e.g. where liability should sit when vehicles are leased and how the division would work in practice where vehicles were used for private or commercial purposes or for new business models such as peer-to-peer lending of vehicles;
  • Flexibility: any new automated vehicle regulation regime should be sufficiently flexible to deal with a wide variety of business models and eventualities (a sentiment re-enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic);
  • Environment: air quality and decarbonisation should remain central to town planning efforts and street design, having a knock on impact on transport initiatives and regulatory tools should be implemented to prevent excessive "empty cruising" by empty vehicles;
  • Ride-sharing: ride-sharing (in the absence of a human driver) is a major concern, particularly in connection with vulnerable people (a concern which has since been amplified by the need to social distance);
  • Delivery systems: a renewed focus has arisen in ensuring resilient delivery systems that do not rely on human drivers;
  • Licensing: a single national system of operator licensing should be adopted (89% of consultees agreed);
  • Access to data: consultees also highlighted the vast amount of data generated by highly automated passenger vehicles, and debated the utility of mandatory obligations to share that data, balanced with the need to comply with existing laws, such as GDPR and the NIS Directive in relation to the security of such data.
The Law Commission's three year consultation process continues; the third consultation (setting out overarching legislative proposals) is to be expected in late 2020, with final recommendations to land in 2021 which are likely to shape bills in Parliament shortly thereafter.

Context

The Law Commission's Second Consultation Paper focussed on the use of highly automated vehicles without a user-in-charge and discussed two broad use cases:

  1. As part of a service to supply road journeys to passengers without a human driver or a user-in-charge - Highly Automated Road Passenger Services ("HARPS"). The LC had provisionally considered that the challenges posed by the operation of HARPS requires a new system of operator licensing; and
  2. As privately owned passenger vehicles. The LC separately considered who would be responsible for insuring, maintaining and supervising such vehicles.
In the Law Commission's First Consultation Paper, it provisionally concluded that highly automated vehicles should have a "user in charge" capable of taking over driving in certain circumstances and who is in the vehicle or in direct sight of the vehicle.