05 July 2019

In 2018 the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission (the Law Commissions) launched a 3-year review into the legal frameworks needed for the successful deployment of self-driving vehicles in the UK. In their first consultation, launched in November 2018, the Law Commissions explored issues of safety assurance and civil and criminal liability.

The Law Commissions have now published the 178 responses to the consultation received from individuals, transport research experts, car manufacturers and developers, safety and disability groups, insurers, the police, local government, lawyers and academics.

The Commission will rely on these responses as it considers the legal framework surrounding automated vehicles, and their use as part of public transport networks and on-demand passenger services.

Why are the Law Commissions looking at the legal frameworks for self-driving cars?

In its paper ‘Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future’ the government outlined its 4 Grand Challenges. One such Grand Challenge is to become ‘a world leader in the way people, goods and services move’. As the Law Commissions highlighted in their consultation, automated vehicles are an important part of this.

The Law Commissions’ project builds on the UK’s success. In its 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index KPMG highlighted that “the United Kingdom continues to be a leader on policy and legislation… The UK government’s forward-thinking approach to deploying AVs places it second on the policy and legislation pillar, and first on the new data-sharing sub-pillar”. As we have set out in a number of our reports on connected and autonomous (CAV) research and development projects, law must be seen as an enabler and should unlock opportunities whilst protecting people by balancing the collective good with individual requirements, providing clear accountabilities and risk allocation. The Law Commissions’ work is a key part of continuing the success of the UK in developing a flexible framework to support the successful deployment of automated vehicles on UK roads.

Our response to the Consultation

Burges Salmon provided a comprehensive response to the Law Commissions’ consultation. It set out some of the general core themes relevant to the introduction of automated vehicles and in particular, highlighted that the current framework of driving law and rules rests on the fundamental basis that ‘driving’ is solely a human activity whereas the introduction of automated vehicles will create a new class of non-human activity more analogous to automated processes of products. We also set out our view that given the fast-changing pace of technology there should be a preference for creating a flexible safety-based framework for regulating automated vehicle systems that is able to regular and approve different vehicles, use cases and specifications according to their required permissions and conditions when approved those cases.

Our response to the Law Commissions’ consultation is available in full here.

What’s next?

A second consultation will be published by the Law Commissions later this year, with the final report featuring recommendations on all of the issues discussed due in 2021.

Burges Salmon’s involvement in CAV research and development

Burges Salmon has been actively partnering in Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) research and development projects and trials since 2014. These include the Innovate UK-funded projects VENTURER, FLOURISH, Capri, RoboPilot and MutiCAV. To date, we have published a number of joint insurance and legal reports in conjunction with AXA UK on CAV issues relating to insurance, safety, civil and criminal liability, data and cyber-security.

If you would like to know more about our involvement in CAV research or development or would like to discuss how we may be able to work with you, please contact Chris Jackson, Brian Wong or Lucy Pegler in our Transport Technology and Intelligent Mobility team.

Key contact

Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson Partner

  • Infrastructure
  • Procurement and State Aid
  • Transport

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