The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission (“the Law Commissions”) have launched their second consultation paper in their three year project commissioned by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.
This paper relates specifically to Highly Automated Road Passenger Services (“HARPS”), which are vehicles that can travel with no driver or ‘user in charge’, in other words empty or with only passengers on board, and how the public might be supplied with such automated services.
While acknowledging that self-driving cars such as these have the potential for “significant social benefit”, the Law Commissions have identified that, in the absence of what they term “effective regulation”, the introduction of self-driving cars would potentially give rise to various problems including;
- Traffic being blocked, if a self-driving car freezes when confronting unexpected weather conditions or unknown obstacles (including, possibly, leaves or plastic bags).
- Reduced accessibility for those who rely on a driver to assist them, for example by helping them into the vehicle or accompanying them from their door.
- Increased congestion if many self-driving cars are introduced before private car use has reduced. This will be compounded if HARPS drive around empty, waiting to be utilised.
This consultation paper, which runs to over 200 pages and poses 38 specific questions, sets out the proposals of the Law Commissions’ for “a new regulatory regime aimed at ensuring HARPS are safe, accessible and meet wider transport goals set by local and central Government”. Responses are to be lodged by the 16th January 2020.
The questions, designed to examine the changes that are required to regulate HARPS, include:
- Whether HARPS should be subject to a new, single, national system of operator licensing.
- If so, what obligations should fall on HARPS operators? For example… obligations relating to maintenance, insurance, remote supervision and the reporting of accidents.
- Who should these obligations fall on when a passenger-only vehicle is privately-owned?
- How can we ensure that HARPS are accessible?
- What regulatory tools should be used to control congestion and cruising?
- How should HARPS be integrated with public transport?
The Law Commissions have stressed the importance to them of receiving responses. Nicholas Paines QC, Commissioner at the Law Commission of England and Wales has said “Responses to our consultation are vital for ensuring that our proposed regulatory framework will allow the full potential of self-driving cars to be realised, and we hope as many people as possible will respond”. Caroline S Drummond, Commissioner at the Scottish Law Commission has stated that “Self-driving vehicles could make a particularly big difference for people who are currently unable or unwilling to drive. It is essential that the views of disabled and older people are considered from the start. We invite views from a wide range of stakeholders on how such services should be regulated to achieve these aims and benefit society as a whole.”