The Automated Vehicles Review at the Law Commission of England and Wales plays a pivotal role in in the UK government’s push to be at the forefront of the burgeoning global self-driving industry.
Since 2018, when the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) asked The Commission to undertake a far-reaching three-year review of the UK’s regulatory framework for automated vehicles, Jessica Uguccioni, the lead lawyer for the review, has been immersed in reforms to enable their safe and effective deployment.
Covering everything from private cars to public transport and mobility as a service (MAAS), the final report is due by the end of 2021, but a ton of evidence has already been collected, analysed and published.
Notably, in December 2020, The Commission unveiled a consultation setting out a comprehensive regulatory scheme for automated vehicles. The consultation closed in March 2021 and the outcomes are not yet public.
Two concepts are particularly striking: 1) a start-to-finish self-driving vehicle safety assurance scheme; and 2) a user-in-charge.
Under the proposals, when the vehicle is driving in automated mode the person in the driving seat is no longer a driver, but instead a ‘user-in-charge’ with responsibilities to take over driving following a transition demand, and for driver duties that do not relate to dynamic driving (like maintenance of the vehicle, or ensuring children are wearing seatbelts).
Importantly, the user-in-charge would not be criminally liable if an accident occurred while the vehicle was in self-driving mode. Transport Minister Rachel Maclean hailed the work as “leading the way on the regulation of this technology”.
JU: “Our analysis is still evolving, not just in terms of the framework we would like to see, but suggesting changes to existing legislation and identifying gaps.
“For passenger cars, there are two main routes to market: gradually adding driving automation features to consumer vehicles, which may be capable of self-driving for part of a journey but still rely on a human driver to complete a trip; and the ride hail model, with vehicles that can carry passengers or drive empty, and can complete trips while self-driving.
“The oversight needs to be very different, although there is some common ground. The safety assurance scheme applies regardless of the use case. But for cars which cannot complete a journey in self-driving mode, it is important to have a user in charge – a new legal role reflecting the responsibilities of being less than a driver but more than a passenger. On the other hand, fleet operators play a crucial supervisory role for automated vehicles that do not need a user-in-charge.
“There is a lot of unease over the safety of the transition process: human factors input is crucial to ensure the human can be brought back into the loop and take over driving in a safe manner. Circumstances (the ‘operational design domain’ or ODD) must also be taken into account. For example, being in a dedicated lane travelling at 10mph is a very different safety case to motorway driving.
“The SAE levels are helpful, but they don’t tell the whole story. The AV must be safe within its ODD, but any public place brings an amount of randomness. The AV therefore needs to be able to cope with a wide variety of situations. For example, pedestrian safety needs to be taken into consideration for ALKS on motorways – people shouldn’t be walking along or across motorways, but sometimes they are. We need to make sure that redistribution of risk does not disadvantage vulnerable road users – that’s a priority.”
For the latest thinking, see this Overview of Consultation Paper 3 and we await the final report with great interest.