At present, the majority of road traffic laws in the UK assume that a vehicle will be controlled by a human driver who is engaged at all times and remains ready to resume control of the vehicle. This has allowed the operation of highly but not fully autonomous vehicles and, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Limited’s review of the automotive industry, in 2017:
- seven in 10 new cars were available with driver assistance systems;
- 58.8 per cent of new cars were available with Park Assist technology;
- 36.2 per cent of new cars were available with Adaptive Cruise Control;
- 66.8 per cent of new cars were offered with a self-activating safety system;
- 1.8 million buyers were able to benefit from collision avoidance technology; and
- 42.1 per cent of new cars were available with overtaking sensors.
Unfortunately, the current road traffic laws in the UK have acted as an impediment to the use of fully autonomous vehicles on UK public roads. Despite this, the UK government is committed to encouraging the development of new technologies in the automotive sphere and, to this end, a number of revisions to the legislative framework in this area are under way.
On 6 August 2017, the UK government published a code on the key principles of vehicle cybersecurity for connected and automated vehicles. This aims to ensure that throughout the automotive sector, the connected autonomous vehicle and intelligent transport system ecosystems and their supply chains, all parties are taking appropriate actions to ensure their vehicles are cybersecure.
As noted above, the UK government has published the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which contains new insurance measures in light of advances in vehicle technology. The proposed single, comprehensive motor insurance framework will allow a person who suffers damage in an accident involving a self-driving vehicle with automated mode engaged to have a direct claim against an insurer. Unlike the current third-party motor insurance framework, insured persons in the automated vehicle at the time of the accident will also be covered. The new act received royal assent in July 2018.
Although the draft Bill is expected to see revisions before being published in its final form, the current version requires insurance to be made available that covers both when the human driver is in control of the vehicle and when the vehicle is in autonomous mode. The legal regime is structured so that when a car is driving itself, injured third parties can claim against the motor insurer in the usual manner, the disengaged driver can claim in a similar way on the insurance and motor insurers can recover against vehicle manufacturers. When a vehicle is conventionally driven, existing arrangements will continue to apply (ie, the motor insurer is liable for losses caused by the insured person). Following a recent amendment passed in the House of Lords, an insurer may only insure an automated vehicle if it is satisfied the vehicle meets certain standards and that the owner understands that if it makes any software alterations or fails to install any safety-critical software updates, the insurance policy may not cover them. The draft Bill makes it clear a vehicle will only be considered to be ‘driving itself’ when it is operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, by a human.
Under the draft Bill the secretary of state can issue a number of secondary regulations on automated vehicles, including standards for automated vehicles, criteria to determine whether a motor vehicle is capable of driving itself and situations when it is and is not appropriate for a person to allow a vehicle to drive itself.
The UK government is under increasing pressure to put in place measures to reduce air pollution, including pollution caused by vehicles. It is anticipated that, in response, the UK government will pledge that all new cars in the UK will be ‘effectively zero emission’ by 2040, under plans to tackle air pollution and all sales of new petrol and diesel cars, but not hybrids, will be banned by 2032. This will be a huge change for the automotive industry and the continued development of other lower or zero emission power sources, such as electricity, for vehicles is key to its success.
In support of this move towards reducing air pollution, the draft Bill grants the secretary of state powers to implement secondary legislation to improve the infrastructure in place for electric vehicles. This forms part of a wider government strategy to encourage consumers to ‘go green’, building on similar initiatives that have been introduced (such as government grant schemes for new electric or hybrid vehicles that meet certain criteria). Investment by the UK government and the overseeing of the creation of a coordinated infrastructure, avoiding manufacturers and infrastructure providers working in R & D silos, will be vital for the widespread take up of new electric or hybrid vehicles. A further challenge to the development of zero emission vehicles, and the infrastructure required to support them, is the apparent slowing demand in the new vehicle markets referred to in question 1. Manufacturers have previously used some of the profits from the sale of petrol and diesel powered vehicles to fund their investment in the R & D, marketing and sales of new electric or hybrid vehicles (and other cleaner automotive technology). A downturn in those profits may have a significant knock-on effect on the development of new technology.
In addition, transportation services are increasingly popular in the UK. In response to growing industry pressure, regulations have been introduced that impose extra requirements on private hire vehicles (PHVs) that operate in London specifically, including a requirement for all drivers of PHVs to pass an English language test and for PHV operators to notify Transport for London of any material changes made to their operating model (which would include any changes made to an app that facilitates the use of services offered by the PHV operator). In response to the growth in ride sharing, Transport for London has also published a new policy statement that sets out principles to ensure the private hire market remains safe and inform future regulations.
The GDPR introduces a range of new obligations that will apply to any data collected from vehicles that can be linked to an identifiable living person. When designing vehicles, automotive manufacturers will have to abide by the principle of ‘privacy by design and by default’, which requires that privacy issues be addressed throughout the design process.
As the UK is still a member of the European Union at this point, the GDRP is directly applicable in the UK. The GDPR is also supplemented and particularised in the UK by the Data Protection Act 2017. The Data Protection Act 2017 effectively provides for the GDPR to remain in effect in the UK once the UK leaves the EU.
The current version of the new draft e-Privacy Regulation would require automotive manufacturers to obtain specific, freely given, informed and affirmative consent before collecting telematics, location or other data from vehicles, unless such collection is necessary in order to provide a service requested by the user. We do not expect the e-Privacy Regulation will pass into law until at least 2021, as it is being hotly debated.
Traditional car ownership models are starting to be challenged by the development and growing popularity of schemes that provide alternative forms of access to vehicles. Two examples are car subscription and car-sharing schemes.
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