UK to lead the way with testing of driverless cars

20 Jul 2015

The Government has today published the promised Code of Practice for the testing of driverless cars on UK roads.

The new Code, which is non-statutory, promotes responsible testing through a “business as usual” approach coupled with guidance on expectations for maintaining the safety of all road users. This includes requiring compliance with all existing road traffic laws, construction and use regulations, licensing and training needs.

The current legal and insurance framework is thus effectively unchanged and the point is made that neither observance nor breach of the Code will itself determine liability in the event of an accident. The scope of the Code may be summarised as:

  • It will apply whenever a highly or fully automated vehicle is tested on a public road or in a public place;
  • If a fully automated vehicle is being tested there must always be a facility for manual control to be resumed at any time;
  • Responsibility for the safety of the testing will rest with those organising the testing;
  • Responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle will rest with the test driver or test operator.

A chapter of the Code is devoted to the requirements and responsibilities of the test drivers, operators and assistants, and it is expected that these individuals will have skills over and above those of conventional drivers. Naturally, the testing organisation, as any employer would be, is obliged to ensure appropriate and adequate training and to set guidelines for driver conduct.

It is also specifically made clear that all existing laws on driver behaviour continue to apply even if the vehicle is in a fully automated mode, meaning that exceeding speed limits cannot be blamed on the technology and using a phone or engaging in other activity that would distract a driver from the road remain forbidden.

A key section of the Code covers data recording and cyber security. These points should be noted:

  • The Data Protection Act 1998 must be observed in relation to the personal data of the test drivers/operators and assistants
  • A minimum data collection requirement is set out, such that if an incident occurs sufficient data will be available to determine who or what was controlling the vehicle at the time
  • The data concerned “should be provided to the relevant authorities upon request”
  • The obvious need for cyber security is stated but the testing organisations are merely directed to a particular standard (BSI PAS274 or equivalent) without making compliance mandatory.

As well as releasing the Code, the Government has also has announced the creation of a new policy unit, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (C-CAV). Its role will be to co-ordinate policy generally in this area and to look into the development of roadside communication technology to develop “connected corridors” for further improved road safety.

Setting up the C-CAV should go some way to meeting the call from the Commons Transport Committee in March (in Motoring of the Future) that the Department for Transport should develop “… a coherent, joined-up strategy to link the development and implementation of new automotive technology to the achievement of its wider policy goals … [and] …  a comprehensive, accessible vision to shape motoring of the future in partnership with other Government Departments and agencies.“

The Code probably holds few surprises at this stage, but it reconfirms the critical areas that our legal framework will have to address in detail so that automated vehicle technology can thrive in the UK as the Government intends. Current testing arrangements aside, the Government’s review of the necessary legislative changes has started but it is not due to be completed until at least summer 2017.


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Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to customers of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

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