On 28 April the UK Government initiated its consultation seeking to gain insight into methods of permitting safe use of automated vehicles on UK roads. The consultation follows as the outcome to their previous call for evidence in August 2020 on the use of automated vehicles and automated lane keeping systems (ALKSs) which take control of the vehicle at certain speeds, therefore keeping it in lane on motorways.

This article briefly summarises the call for evidence and its findings, the proposed terms within the consultation, and the next steps the UK government seeks to take in their pursuit of innovation in the area of automated vehicles.

The UK Government call for evidence

The call for evidence sought to consider the impact, at a national level, of the development of regulation to allow producers and users of automated systems within vehicles and automated vehicles themselves to be used on public roads.

In particular, the UK Government sought views on:

  • ensuring the safe use of ALKS, including whether ALKS met the definition of automation in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEVA);
  • ensuring fair delegation of responsibility between the driver and the vehicle;
  • performing activities other than driving when the system is engaged; and
  • using the system at higher speeds.

In total, 186 responses were received from organisations including manufacturers, transport authorities, and law enforcement. Overall, the responses indicated that a number of issues, such as how drivers should be educated on systems such as ALKS and the lack of methods of identifying vehicles operating these systems, would need to be addressed in some form before they could safely be used on a wider scale on public roads. What remained consistent throughout the responses given, is that regulatory changes would need to be made to the current motoring legislation if development of automated systems and automated vehicles were to continue.

The aim of the consultation

The aim of the consultation and the subsequent regulatory changes is to maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in the development and advancement of automated vehicles. They seek to do this by amending the current regulatory regime to allow automated vehicles and automated systems such as ALKS to be tested and driven on public roads and believe this is an important step towards vehicles with higher levels of autonomy.

What is changing?

The consultation proposes a number of amendments to the Highway Code.

In particular, the consultation seeks opinion on the following proposals:

  • If you are driving a vehicle with assisted driving features, you must stay in control of the vehicle.
  • While an automated vehicle is driving itself, you are not responsible for how it drives, and you do not need to pay attention to the road. But you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions about when it is appropriate to engage the self-driving function.
  • If the vehicle is designed to require you to resume driving after being prompted to, while the vehicle is driving itself, you must remain in a position to be able to take control. For example, you should not move out of the driving seat and you should not be so distracted that you cannot take back control when prompted by the vehicle.
  • You are still responsible for the vehicle being in a roadworthy condition, having a current MOT test certificate if applicable, and being taxed and insured.

The next steps

The UK Government has called on all organisations who have interests in the development of automated motor systems to provide their opinions on the proposed amendments to legislation. In particular, they seek to know opinions on whether this achieves their goal of suitably amending the Highway Code to balance innovation with safety and any concerns they may have as a result of the amendments.

The consultation is set to conclude and a summary of its findings produced by summer 2021.

Once prepared, and the findings of a similarly subjected consultation paper by the Law Commission are reported later this year, the amendments will be proposed in Parliament by the end of 2021 in order to ensure the UK is ready for the introduction of ALKS and similar automated motor systems onto public roads.