Government responds to consultation about automated vehicles and Highway Code

April 20, 2022

The UK government has published its response to a consultation about automated vehicles and the Highway Code. 

In January 2022, the Law Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission published a joint report with recommendations for a new legal framework to support the safe deployment of automated vehicles. The government has committed to legislating on automated vehicles and is currently considering the recommendations, which will require a long-term programme of regulatory reform.

The government’s view is that the amendment to the Highway Code is needed as an interim measure to support the safe use of the first self-driving vehicles on UK roads. In particular, the government proposes to:

  • adopt the term ‘self-driving’ to describe ‘automated vehicles’ under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, which are listed as vehicles capable of safely and lawfully driving themselves;
  • provide clarification of the differences between self-driving and assistance technologies;
  • incorporate the effect of a planned modification to Regulation 109 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, which will enable drivers of self-driving vehicles to view information not related to the driving task on the vehicle’s infotainment system while the vehicle is driving itself;
  • provide more detail on those rules that continue to apply to the driver, even when the vehicle is in self-driving mode – for example, on being fit to drive, having a road-legal vehicle and not carrying out illegal activities such as using handheld mobile phones.

Under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, the revised version of the Highway Code will be laid before both Houses of Parliament for a period of 40 days.

More broadly, the government is taking forward workstreams that focus on driver understanding. In particular:

  • it is exploring options to provide further clarity to drivers on rules for the use of self-driving vehicles – such as through supplementary guidance from DVSA, within their range of resources for drivers. It will update DVSA resources as new issues are found. It is also liaising with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to prevent unfair prosecutions of drivers using self-driving vehicles.
  • It has also established a driver education working group with a wide range of stakeholders, including manufacturers, car rental and leasing companies, and road safety organisations to develop solutions for communicating driver responsibilities and rules for safe use of self-driving vehicles. An early example of the outputs from this group are the SMMT’s guiding principles for marketing automated vehicles.