The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission (the Commissions) have published a summary of responses to the second round of their joint consultation on legislating for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) in the UK.
The consultation is part of the Commissions’ wider three year review to prepare legislation for CAVs on Britain’s roads. The summary of responses (published on 20 May 2020) relates to the Commission’s Consultation Paper 2, which focused on how CAVs might be used to supply passenger transport services to the public, specifically through the use of ‘Highly Automated Road Passenger Services’ (HARPS). The Commissions broadly define HARPS as CAVs which require no human input whatsoever whilst in operation (i.e. SAE Level 4 or 5 vehicles).
Key points from the consultation responses included the following:
HARPS operator licensing scheme
- There was considerable support for the Commissions’ proposal that HARPS should be subject to a new single national system of operator licensing (separate from existing regulatory systems for taxis, private hire vehicles, rental services and public service vehicles).
Legal responsibility for vehicles
- In the absence of a driver, a key question for HARPS is who bears legal responsibility for insurance, roadworthiness and installing software updates. There was strong support for the Commissions’ proposal that this should be presumed to be the vehicle’s registered keeper. However, difficulties arise with this approach in relation to vehicle leasing and commercial peer-to-peer lending.
- Additionally, there are questions about individuals’ ability to meet the technical challenges of maintaining the software and cyber security of HARPS. Most consultees agreed with the Commissions’ proposal to require registered keepers to contract with a licensed provider of CAV maintenance services.
Demands on road infrastructure and integration with public transport
- There was little consensus on how to address the potential problem of increased congestion and pressure on road infrastructure caused by empty CAVs waiting for passengers. The Commissions note that there was considerable interest in ‘road pricing’ from consultees (i.e. charging for use of roads as opposed to traditional parking charges).
- On the need to integrate HARPS with existing public transport networks, consultees highlighted that existing public transport regulation, particularly relating to buses, is extremely complex and in need of reform. Successfully legislating for high occupancy or bus-type HARPS may therefore be particularly challenging and will require at least some form of statutory partnership scheme between HARPS operators and transport authorities.
The Commission notes that it intends to publish a third consultation paper later in 2020, and aims to publish detailed legislative proposals in 2021.
In our view, it is positive to see the Commission pushing ahead with its review during the current climate and, in particular, tackling the finer questions and granular details that are essential to formulating cohesive CAV legislation.