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Government OKs restricted driverless car tests and to issue Code of Practice, plus will review and amend regulations by summer 2017

12 February 2015 - The Department for Transport yesterday published its review of road legislation required to allow development of driverless car technology that gave approval for limited testing of driverless vehicles on public roads.

The report The Pathway to Driverless Cars - Summary report and action plan concluded that driverless vehicles can already legally be tested on public roads in the UK, and therefore real-world testing of automated technologies is possible, providing a test driver is present and takes responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle; and that the vehicle can be used compatibly with road traffic law.

The report also said the Government will publish a Code of Practice in spring 2015 for those wishing to test driverless vehicles on UK roads.

The Department for Transport review, carried out over the past 6 months, considered the best and safest ways to trial automated vehicles where an individual is ready to take control of the car if necessary. It also looked further ahead to the implications of testing fully automated vehicles.

 

Background

According to the report, driverless cars and other automated vehicles “offer major potential benefits and could profoundly change our lives for the better”, such as making driving easier, allow people to be more productive, offer greater mobility to a wider range of people and also help improve road safety, reduce emissions, and ease congestion.

This review marked the UK Government’s initial stage in analysing, understanding and developing a strategy to ensure these potential benefits are realised while maintaining road safety.

 

Approach

The focus of the review was to keep the UK is at the forefront of the testing and development of driverless vehicle technologies.

The review examined approaches being taken in North America, Europe, Japan and China. It also analysed the views of the 38 responses received from a ‘call for evidence’ last year that coincided with the launch of the Innovate UK Introducing driverless cars to UK roads Competition. ,

The detailed responses in this review can be found within the full supporting document: The Pathway to Driverless Cars: A detailed review of regulations for automated vehicle technologies.

The review also included a review of existing UK regulations and legislation to examine their compatibility with automated vehicle technologies.

 

Findings

The DfT considered that driverless vehicles can already legally be tested on public roads in the UK, and therefore real-world testing of automated technologies is possible, providing a test driver is present and takes responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle; and that the vehicle can be used compatibly with road traffic law.

It stated that those wishing to conduct tests in the UK are not limited to the test track or certain geographical areas, do not need to obtain certificates or permits, and are not required to provide a surety bond (provided they have insurance arranged).

 

Next steps and action plan

The report said the Government will publish a Code of Practice in spring 2015 for those wishing to test driverless vehicles on UK roads.

This Code of Practice, to be developed in collaboration with key stakeholders, is intended to be “quicker to establish, more flexible and less onerous for those wishing to engage in testing than the regulatory approach being followed in other countries, notably in the US”. 

The Government also promised, working with the devolved administrations, to review and amend domestic regulations by summer 2017 to accommodate driverless vehicle technology.

In that respect the report said that for everyday use of vehicles designed to allow the driver to disengage from the task of driving, it was clear that the legal and regulatory framework needs to be reviewed and amended in three number of areas:

  • Clarification of liabilities – There needs to be greater certainty around criminal and civil liability in the event of an automated vehicle being in a collision. Under the current legal framework these issues would be dealt with on a case by case basis by the Courts. The Government intends to provide additional clarity and certainty in legislation, to provide a sound basis upon which to allocate criminal and civil liability.
  • Amending regulations on vehicle use – Existing regulations governing how vehicles are used and maintained will need to be revised to allow the use of automation technology without a test driver and to ensure that the technology is maintained correctly. This may involve changes, for example, to the MOT test to check roadworthiness. It may also be appropriate to revise The Highway Code to include a section on automated vehicle technologies.
  • Promoting safety – The Government will consider whether a higher standard of “driving” should be demanded of vehicles operating in an automated mode than would be expected of a conventional driver. Government will also consider how the existing regulatory framework may be developed to ensure automated vehicle technologies are protected from possible cyber threats.

The DfT also said it will take the opportunity to learn from real-world experience on these issues from the joint government and industry-funded trials taking place in four UK cities, arising from the Innovate UK competition.
The Government will also liaise at an international level with an aim to amend international regulations by the end of 2018.

Changes will also be needed to be made to European standards (known as type approval) with which mass production vehicles are required to comply prior to sale, as well as to ISO standards such as that on symbols and driver warnings. Developing these standards is likely to take several years.

The Government said it engagee in the area of vehicle standards with a focus on ensuring that the necessary amendments can be put in place before vehicle manufacturers are ready to bring these technologies to market.

 

Innovate UK Introducing driverless cars to UK roads Competition Winners of unveiled

Transport Minister Claire Perry announced the publication of the review at a press event in Greenwich yesterday, where along with Business Secretary Vince Cable, the prototype vehicles involved in the Innovate UK supported road trials were also unveiled.

Vehicles demonstrated were the Meridian shuttle (to be tested in Greenwich), Lutz Pathfinder (Milton Keynes and Coventry), BAE wildcat (Bristol) as well as the MIRA cooperative vehicle.

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