Law Commission report marks necessary step on the journey to safe Automated Driving on UK roads

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The Law Commissions[1] have today (26 January 2022) published a joint report, recommending the introduction of a new Automated Vehicles Act to ensure the safe adoption of vehicles with self-driving capability.

Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer at Thatcham Research, an organisation which was part of the consultation for the Law Commissions’ report comments:

“The transition to the safe introduction of automation with self-driving capabilities is fraught with risk as we enter the early stages of adoption. Today’s report is a significant step, as it provides important legal recommendations and clarity for the safe deployment of vehicles with self-driving features onto the UK’s roads.

“In the next 12 months, we’re likely to see the first iterations of self-driving features on cars in the UK. It’s significant that the Law Commission report highlights the driver’s legal obligations and how they must understand that their vehicle is not yet fully self-driving. It has self-driving features that, in the near future, will be limited to motorway use at low speeds.

“The driver will need to be available to take back control at any time, won’t be permitted to sleep or use their mobile phones, the vehicle won’t be able to change lanes and if the driver does not take back control, when requested, it will stop in lane on the motorway. It is critical that early adopters understand these limitations and their legal obligations.

He continues: “To ensure clarity around system capabilities and the driver’s responsibilities there must be a clear separation between Assisted Driving, where the car supports the driver, and self-driving capability, where the car is responsible for the entire driving task. As such, we applaud the recommendations that compel carmakers to use appropriate terminology when marketing these systems, to prevent motorists from becoming convinced that their car is fully self-driving, when it is not.”

“Strong, independent safety assurance to build societal confidence, working in tandem with fast-moving and clear regulation is also essential to facilitating consumer understanding and adoption. It’s therefore reassuring to see that safety assurance, along with clarity around the driver’s responsibilities and liability should a collision occur, are key tenets of the Law Commissions’ report.

“The Law Commissions recommend that there must be access to data to understand fault and liability when a crash does occur.  This will ensure rapid and efficient compensation, and the data will also allow carmakers to identify where and how self-driving features can be improved to enhance future safety

“The insurance industry and the ABI have been working with the Law Commissions for several years, and we fully support the report’s recommendations.  We look forward to continuing to work with carmakers and the UK Government to ensure the safe deployment of vehicles with self-driving capability.”

Thatcham Research and UK government organisation Zenzic are already working in partnership on a safety rating scheme for Automated Driving Systems. The intention is that this will become the benchmark for a global independent rating scheme for Automated Driving Systems, with a view to driving best practice and reassuring consumers that – when the technology is mature enough – it’s safe to hand over control.

Download the full Law Commissions report and summary here.

[1] The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission