DAC Beachcroft has published its response to the Department for Transport (DfT)’s short paper on modernising vehicle standards, as part of a wider series of consultations concerning the government’s Future of Transport Regulatory Review, which includes papers on zero emissions vehicles; regulatory sandboxes; future of flight; and maritime autonomy and remote operations .

The consultation sets out a number of high level proposals for consideration.

Safety first

We have always promoted a ‘safety first’ approach to the development and regulation of new vehicle technologies, a point we recently reiterated in response to the government’s proposed deployment of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) on motorways. An automated vehicle (AV) is, essentially, a ‘computer on wheels’ and potentially a lethal weapon. To maximise safety, the technology underpinning the automated driving system (ADS) needs to be designed to protect people, both users of AVs and other road users. It is encouraging to note that the government is focused on developing regulations to achieve this.

More detail please

Whilst we are generally supportive of the government’s intended approach, the consultation paper lacks detail, and offers very little in terms of substantive information regarding its intentions and plans for practical implementation. This is especially so when discussing proposed alterations to the provisions around prototype vehicles. It is not clear what about the existing provisions is inadequate or inappropriate, nor does it state what is sought to improve upon them. Given the importance of maintaining the highest standards of safety when preparing for emerging technologies to be deployed onto the UK’s road network, we would expect the DfT to share more detailed proposals and to consult further with stakeholders before proceeding.

User training

Within our response to the consultation, once again we highlight the need for safety considerations to extend beyond the scope of the vehicle itself. The people who operate AVs must be properly trained in how to use them. This means not only including automated driving competencies in the driving test, but making sure that driving instructors and testers are themselves properly trained to teach new drivers adequately.

MOTs for Automated Driving Systems

Ensuring that all safety-related aspects of AVs are properly maintained is vital to improving safety. Whilst the consultation addresses ‘tampering’ from a criminal perspective, it stops short of proposing a practical solution that addresses the challenge posed by the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. Under s2(6) of the Act, insurers of AVs are not permitted to limit or exclude their liability where an incident arises as a result of unauthorised modifications to the vehicle’s hardware.

As well as highlighting the need for amendments to the existing primary legislation on AVs, we call out the government’s role in requiring proper maintenance through an annual MOT test that includes testing the safety-critical automated driving system (ADS) software and hardware.

Looking ahead

We will continue to engage with the government, insurers and other stakeholders to assist in bringing about the safest possible introduction of automated vehicles onto the UK’s roads.