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Ministry publishes consultation on road rule changes and testing procedures for driverless cars - road testing will require backup driver controls

As announced by Business Secretary Vince Cable on launching the Introducing driverless cars to UK roads competition last week, the Department of Transport yesterday published the terms of its promised review into the various bits of legislation and rules impacted by testing driverless vehicles on the Queen’s highway.

This includes an invitation to comment on issues to be addressed by carrying out roads trials of autonomous vehicles.

The Department for Transport (DfT) consultation ask for views on creating a framework for the testing of driverless cars on UK roads in order to  establish the obstacles that prevent the testing of driverless cars on UK roads. It will consider how these obstacles can be removed while maintaining existing levels of road user safety.

However, is contrast the gusto of some reporting of last week’s announcements implying that fully autonomous vehicles are just round the corner, the complexity of the issues as the Ministry sees it means the review focuses on the testing of driverless cars with high automation, not full automation with no backup driver controls.

The Department of Transport states in the Discussion document and call for evidence that, “The additional implications for vehicles with full automation will be noted and categorised but not analysed in detail, as clearly much more work around this is necessary.”

Therefore the sort of prototype as shown by Google with no brakes or steering wheel will not be allowed in road testing, although the review will look ahead to the implications of fully autonomy.


Why driverless cars?

The review states that the advent of connected and ‘autonomous’ technology in vehicles offers enormous opportunities in terms of safety on the roads, better management of road space to reduce congestion and the potential reduction of emissions. Alongside this, it poses considerable challenges in regulatory and social terms, whilst representing a significant area of interest and investment in the global automotive and high technology industries.

It highlights potential long term advantages of road safety benefits, reduced energy consumption and pollution, reduced congestion and improved mobility - but the DfT wants to progress the technology without compromising road safety.

The review concentrates on near term objectives; to “ensure that there is a clear and appropriate regime to enable cars with advanced autonomous safety systems to be tested on British roads.”


Comments invited on rules changes required and road testing

The discussion document provides background information and invites comment on:

  • Issues, including regulatory, safety and social issues, which need to be addressed;
  • The best ways to trial cars with qualified drivers and, looking further ahead, fully autonomous vehicles.

The department has also published a terms of reference for the review.


Review of the Road testing of driverless cars

The terms of reference states that the review will establish the issues to be addressed in the testing of driverless vehicles on UK roads while maintaining existing levels of road user safety.

The review covers ways of carrying out trials where there is an individual in the vehicle who is qualified and capable of taking control of the car (ie seated in the conventional driving position); and also looks further ahead, to the implications of potential use of fully autonomous vehicles.

The review takes into account:

  • The need for the vehicle to comply with construction and safety regulations.
  • The need for the vehicle to comply with traffic laws and rules when in use.
  • The application of the Highway Code in relation to the use of the vehicle.
  • Licensing and insurance requirements and liability for the vehicle and its use.
  • Legislation managed by the devolved administrations.
  • Comparable regimes for testing driverless cars that have been put in place in other countries.
  • The potential to remove regulatory barriers to other innovative forms of personal transport.


“Careful coordination” of national and EU regulations affecting the use of vehicles on British roads required

The DfT highlights a number of parts of primary and secondary legislation concerning vehicles and road traffic law that could be affected and require change for road testing to be allowed. In terms of legislation this means reference to Acts of Parliament (primary legislation, eg the Road Traffic Act 1988), and secondary legislation (eg the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986).

There are also EU and international laws and conventions, such as the 1968 Vienna Convention covering road traffic, which may require amendment prior to changes to national rules.

In addition, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have to an extent their own devolved powers in these areas which can affect what may be done.

Therefore, say the DfT, “appropriate changes may therefore require careful coordination”.

The main areas of legislation involved are expected to fall under the headings below. For each heading the review includes two or three questions to guide thoughts of respondents.

The areas of legislation and questions that are to be considered are:

  • Driver testing and licensing
  • Driver behaviour
  • Behaviour of other road users
  • Product liability
  • Vehicle standards

    • New vehicles – type approval
    • Vehicles in service - roadworthiness
  • Vehicle tax, registering with DVLA
  • Road and infrastructure standards.
  • Insurance
  • Data and privacy concerns
  • Overall regime


Responses by 11:45pm on 19 September 2014

Responses, by 11:45pm on 19 September 2014, are accepted by Email to: and in writing to: Driverless Car Review, C/o International Vehicles Standards

Zone 1/29 to 33, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 4DR.

The review will be chaired by Ian Yarnold – Head of International Vehicle Standards at DfT. He will be supported by a team based at DfT. Regular updates, minutes of meetings and logs of material reviewed will be provided to him.

The review is expected to be published by the Secretary of State for Transport by the end of December 2014.

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