Compulsory safety measures for testing of autonomous vehicles and the creation of an offence of interfering with trials of autonomous vehicles are among the proposed new laws in the pipeline.

Singapore’s traffic laws are slated to be revised to facilitate the development and testing of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), on public roads. This comes just months after testing of CAVs started on public roads in Singapore in August 2016.

Before Parliament on 7 February 2017, Singapore’s Second Minister for Transport Mr Ng Chee Meng proposed new laws via a Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill that would regulate the further testing of CAVs on public roads by imposing a number of compulsory requirements on operators of CAVs. The requirements would apply to authorised persons from companies whose expertise, qualifications and technological resources have been evaluated and approved for CAV testing in Singapore. Key features of the Bill include the following:

(1) Compulsory safety measures for CAV testing

The Bill provides for CAVs to be fitted with monitoring equipment and an alert system to warn the controller of the CAV to take remedial real-time action in the event of any malfunction. Separately, all information such as sensor data and video footage collected through this monitoring process must be stored and made available to the Ministry of Transport upon request.

(2) The supervisory authority of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore

The Bill sets out the LTA’s role in supervising the testing of CAVs. The Bill requires that the person authorised to carry out the CAV testing must have liability insurance, or place a deposit as security with LTA for the duration of the trial. LTA’s supervisory authority will extend to stipulating the weather conditions in which CAV trials can occur, the construction, design, use of infrastructure technology, equipment, or devices of CAVs and the period in which such trials may occur. The LTA will also have the authority to regulate the construction and design of CAVs and the technology involved with a view towards ensuring safety effectiveness.

(3) Introduction of a new offence of “interfering with” CAV trials

The Bill introduces a new offence of “interfering with autonomous motor vehicle trial”, where a person would be liable if he or she hinders or obstructs an approved CAV trial without reasonable excuse. This offence would also be committed in the event that that person interferes with the equipment or devices in an autonomous motor vehicle. The maximum penalty for the offence, upon conviction, is a S$5,000 fine. There is no proposed jail time currently.

However, if the person can show that he or she did not know or could not reasonably have known that he or she was hindering or obstructing CAVs, this would constitute an effective defence under the Bill.

(4) Power of the government to order suspension and cancellation of CAV trials

Under the Bill, CAV trials may be suspended or cancelled if it is found by the government not to be in the public interest for the trial to continue, or if the authorised users failed to comply with, or has contravened a condition of the authorisation of the trial.

Significance of the proposed laws

The Bill gives an insight into the extent of the supervisory authority of Singapore’s LTA in developing CAV technology. The Bill provides a framework within which CAV testing can take place moving forward. Two of the more significant features of these proposed laws are the imposition of responsibilities on companies conducting trials, and the corresponding obligation on pedestrians not to interfere with the testing of CAVs under the risk of criminal liability.

Interestingly, the Bill comes just months after an accident involving a CAV being tested on a public road occurred, in October 2016. That trial was temporarily suspended after a collision occurred involving a lorry and the CAV while the CAV was moving across lanes. The accident was attributed to a series of software anomalies which affected the CAV’s detection abilities and responsiveness.

The Bill reinforces the central importance of accountability by requiring that CAV operators be covered by liability insurance or place a deposit as security with the LTA. Nonetheless, we are anticipating that future rules will be proposed in more detail in relation to the issue of liability, such as where a CAV causes or is involved in accidents.