Law Commissions publish consultation on regulation of highly automated road passenger services (HARPS)

October 17, 2019

The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission have published their second consultation paper on automated vehicles. They are carrying out a three-year review to prepare law and regulation for automated vehicles.

The Commissions’ first consultation paper considered safety assurance together with civil and criminal liability. The second consultation covers the regulation of highly automated road passenger services (HARPS). The consultation ends on 16 January 2020 and covers England, Wales and Scotland. In 2020 a third consultation paper will draw on the responses to both previous consultation papers to formulate more detailed proposals on the way forward. This will lead to a final report, with recommendations in 2021

The Commissions have coined the term HARPS to encapsulate the idea of a new service. It refers to a service which uses self-driving vehicles to provide journeys to passengers without a human driver or user-in-charge. The vehicle would be able to travel empty or with only passengers on board – that is, with nobody in the vehicle with legal responsibility for its safety.

The Commissions consider a national licensing scheme for HARPS. They also discuss private ownership of passenger-only vehicles. They cover accessibility for older and disabled people, how to control congestion on public roads and how regulation can help self-driving vehicles integrate with public transport.

Chapter 2 looks at the aims of regulation, drawing on the Government’s Future of Mobility Urban Strategy and local transport plans. The Commissions consider how HARPS could contribute to these goals and then look at the dangers that HARPS could undermine them. The potential benefits and risks have informed their approach to regulation and the proposals made in subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3 considers the current, highly fragmented, regulatory system applying to taxis; private hire; public service vehicles (PSV); and car hire. At one time, the distinctions reflected genuine market differences. However, these divisions are blurring and may disappear altogether in an automated environment. The Commissions do not think that it will be possible to shoehorn HARPS into the current regulatory structure and provisionally propose a single licensing system for all

HARPS operators. The law must identify the person or organisation responsible for updating, insuring and maintaining the vehicles and for guarding against cyber-attacks. There is also a need to keep traffic flowing. HARPS will need to be supervised so that they do not stop in inappropriate places and to make sure that broken-down vehicles are moved. 

Chapter 4 discusses the scope and content of a new scheme of HARPS operator licensing. It looks in detail at how PSV operator licensing currently works and asks how far these principles are relevant to HARPS.

Chapter 5 considers privately-owned vehicles authorised for use without a user in-charge. It asks who should be responsible for insuring, maintaining and supervising such vehicles.

Chapter 6 discusses how to regulate HARPS to ensure that they provide an accessible service to older and disabled people.

Chapter 7 addresses the potential problem that large numbers of new vehicles may be placed on urban roads before private car use has reduced, adding to congestion and pollution. The problem would be compounded if HARPS “cruise empty” – that is, circle around for no purpose.  Transport for London has emphasised the importance of regulatory tools to address this issue. The Commissions therefore look at the tools for controlling this, including traffic regulation orders; parking charges; road pricing and phased deployment.

Chapter 8 looks at how to integrate HARPS with public transport. It considers how far HARPS should fall within existing bus regulation. It then asks how individual HARPS can be encouraged to feed into public transport systems including through developments in Mobility as a Service. It suggests possible partnership arrangements in which local authorities provide facilities for HARPS (such as priority lanes and parking near railway stations) in return for integrated information and ticketing systems.

Chapter 9 lists sets out a non-exhaustive list of questions that the Commissions have asked. They also welcome observations on their proposals from those involved in the freight industry.