On 16 October 2019, the Law Commission of England and Wales – jointly with the Scottish Law Commission – launched a second public consultation on the regulatory framework for Highly Automated Road Passenger Services, or “HARPS”. “HARPS” is a new term that the Law Commissions have coined for highly automated vehicles that provide road journeys to passengers without a human driver in charge.

The current consultation focuses on whether HARPS operators should be subject to a national licensing scheme, and the conditions that they should meet to obtain a license. Specifically, the Law Commissions are seeking stakeholders’ views on whether such a scheme should be set up, how the scope of the scheme — and the term “HARPS operator” — should be defined, and the obligations that HARPS operators should be required to meet.

The consultation also discusses private ownership of passenger-only vehicles, accessibility for older and disabled people, how to control congestion on public roads, and how regulation can help self-driving vehicles integrate with public transport. While this project is focussed on passenger transport, the Law Commissions also welcome observations on their proposals from the freight industry – if only to highlight where passenger provisions may or may not be appropriate.

This consultation forms part of a three-year review by the Law Commissions. The Law Commissions have been asked to undertake a far reaching review of the legal framework for automated vehicles by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. The first public consultation in this review was launched in November 2018, focussing on safety assurance and legal liability. This was followed up by an analysis of the responses and interim findings in June 2019.

This second public consultation is open for comments until 16 January 2020, following which the Law Commissions will again publish an analysis of responses and interim findings. It will be followed by a third overarching consultation in 2020, and the Law Commissions will publish their final report and deliver final recommendations in 2021.