On 24 June, The Law Commission published a 93-page issues paper on reform options for remote driving, inviting feedback from the public.
It notes: “Technology that enables an individual to drive a vehicle from a remote location already exists today – operating in controlled environments such as warehouses, farms and mines.” The new paper considers how the existing legal framework applies to shared roads.
Whether you see it as a bridging technology or a long-term solution, remote driving – where a person outside a vehicle uses connectivity to control it, often from many miles away – will certainly be part of the mix on the road to self-driving.
Indeed, in May, Project Encode demonstrated transfer of control across three states – manual driving, autonomous driving and teleoperation – in live vehicle tests in Oxford and London.
The issues paper press release highlights four safety challenges:
- Connectivity: how can a reliable connection between the remote driver and vehicle be ensured and how can safety risks be mitigated if connectivity is lost?
- Situational awareness: how can drivers remain aware of their surroundings through a screen without (for example) the “feel” of acceleration?
- Keeping remote drivers alert: how can the risk of fatigue, motion sickness and distraction be overcome?
- Cybersecurity: how can unauthorised takeover of vehicles be prevented?
From a law enforcement perspective, tricky questions arise from the possibility that a vehicle on British roads could be remotely driven from abroad. The Law Commission therefore invites views on whether this should be prohibited.
Remote driving terminology
Of course, for anything related to self-driving, there are questions around terminology. In addition to a good old-fashioned driver, and a user-in-charge, we could soon also have an Entity for Remote Driving Operation (ERDO) – a corporate entity rather than an individual that uses and operates vehicles rather than develops or manufactures them.
Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner, said: “Remote driving technology is already capable of being used on our roads. We hope our issues paper can contribute to a healthy debate about the appropriate regulation of this technology and what can be done to maximise protection of road users while encouraging innovation.”
The new project – via the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and the International Vehicle Standards team at the Department for Transport (DfT) – builds on the recent three-year review of legislation to enable the deployment of automated vehicles (AVs) on British roads.
Views on remote driving can be submitted here until 2 September 2022.
The Law Commission will then draft advice for the UK Government by January 2023.