Automated Vehicles Bill receives first reading in UK parliament

November 14, 2023

Last week we wrote that the Automated Vehicles Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords on 8 November.

The Automated Vehicles Bill implements the recommendations of the four-year review of regulation for automated vehicles carried out jointly by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission. It is intended to set out the legal framework for the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles in Great Britain.

The Government’s response to the recommendations was published August 2022. Based on the Law Commission’s recommendations, it committed to set out a legal and safety framework to provide clarity of responsibility for self-driving vehicles and to put in place new safety requirements. The framework applies to vehicle systems that can drive a vehicle, for some or all of the journey, with no human input. Such systems are considered ‘self-driving’, and legal responsibilities change. This technology is distinct from technology that supports a driver (driver assistance technology), where the driver always remains responsible. The Law Commission recommended that it should be criminal offence to market a vehicle as self-driving if it does not meet the legal definition – this has been incorporated into the draft Bill, see below.

As recommended by the Law Commissions, new legal entities will be responsible for the safety of self-driving systems and the Bill creates a new legal status for a driver who has handed control of a vehicle to a self-driving system. It also sets out details of a new safety framework for self-driving vehicles on roads in Great Britain.

The safety framework includes a high-level non-statutory safety ambition which aims to provide a focus for government and industry as self-driving vehicles are developed and deployed, and to provide a publicly accessibly aim to support public acceptance. A set of National Safety Principles, referred to as a Statement of Safety Principles in the Bill, will set out further detail of the safety expectations for self-driving vehicles and to which the Secretary of State is required to have regard when assessing whether a vehicle is able to drive itself safely and legally.

Vehicles with automated systems will be subject to detailed technical assessment and approval for the purposes of safety and cybersecurity using the well-established Vehicle Type Approval process. Amendments to the approval process will be made where necessary to account for new automated technologies. A vehicle with automated technology may be put forward for authorisation, which is the process by which a system will be assessed as self-driving. If assessed as self-driving, authorisation will identify the organisation responsible for the system.

If an authorised self-driving operates without a responsible individual inside at any point, it will require a licensed operator to oversee the service. If the service carries passengers, it will require a permit for automated passenger services or license to do so under existing taxi, private hire or public service vehicle laws.

As in-use regulatory scheme will hold those responsible for self-driving systems to account while the systems are in use, and new sanctions and penalties will apply if the regulated bodies fail to meet their obligations. No-blame safety investigations by inspectors of automated vehicle incidents will make recommendations to inform and shape the ongoing safe development and deployment of self-driving vehicles.

In addition to the Law Commission’s recommendations, the Bill will make information about traffic regulation orders (TROs) available digitally and in a common format for use in self-driving vehicles and other systems that facilitate driving vehicles on a road. The data, which includes, for example, speed limits, road closures and restrictions, location and times of use of bus lanes and parking bays can then be used to create a digital map of the road network which will support the safe operation of self-driving vehicles. The proposal for digital TROs was consulted on in 2022.

The Bill will also prohibit misleading market practices, including around using ambiguous terminology in advertising material around whether their vehicles classify as self-driving. Regulations under the Bill will set out specific terminology and symbols which will be reserved for marketing authorised self-driving vehicles. Unauthorised and improper use of this terminology will be against the law and a criminal offence.

As well as the Bill, the explanatory rules have also been published.