On April 17, 2018, the Québec legislature enacted Bill 165, An Act to amend the Highway Safety Code and other provisions1. Bill 165 marks the first time that autonomous vehicles will be recognized – and regulated – in Québec.
Until Bill 165, the Highway Safety Code2 and other relevant legislation were silent on the issue of autonomous vehicles. The current Highway Safety Code simply defines3 a "road vehicle" as "a motor vehicle that can be driven on a highway […]", and a "motor vehicle" as "a motorized road vehicle primarily adapted for the transportation of persons or property". Bill 165 makes direct reference to "autonomous vehicles", defined as "a road vehicle equipped with an automated driving system that can operate a vehicle at driving automation level 3, 4 or 5 of the SAE International's Standard J3016"4 .
SAE International Standard J3016 provides for six (6) levels of car automation5:
- Level 0 – No automation – a human driver performs all aspects of the driving tasks;
- Level 1 – Driver Assistance – a human driver is assisted by either a steering or an acceleration/deceleration assistance system;
- Level 2 – Partial Automation – a human driver is assisted by both a steering and an acceleration/deceleration assistance system;
- Level 3 – Conditional Automation – an automated system performs all dynamic driving tasks, with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene;
- Level 4 – High automation - an automated system performs all dynamic driving tasks, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene;
- Level 5 – Full Automation – an automated driving system performs all dynamic driving tasks, but can be managed by a human driver.
As evidenced by the definition of "autonomous vehicle" above, the Québec legislature considers vehicles at automation level 3, 4 and 5 to be considered "autonomous", and it is these which are subject to the new legislation.
Bill 165 would prohibit the use of autonomous vehicles on roads in Québec. That being said, the Minister of Transport (the "Minister") may establish pilot projects in order to "test, study or innovate" with regards to autonomous vehicles6 . These pilot projects may last up to five years7, and as part of these projects, the Minister may "provide for an exemption from the insurance contribution associated with the authorization to operate a vehicle and set the minimum required amount of liability insurance guaranteeing compensation for property damage caused by an automobile"8 .
As for damage resulting from automobile accidents involving autonomous vehicles – a topic that has garnered much attention, given recent events – Bill 165 provides that "[t]he Minister may also require the manufacturer or distributor to reimburse the Société [d'assurance automobile du Québec] for compensation that it will be required to pay in the event of an automobile accident"9 , and that these rules supersede those provided by the Automobile Insurance Act10. No further details have been provided in this regard. Clarifications regarding the extent to which manufacturers or distributors could be held liable in the case of an accident involving an autonomous vehicle will undoubtedly be a priority concern for the automotive industry.
Bill 165 has been generally well-received in Québec, despite the lack of clarity surrounding driver and manufacturer liability. In an effort to keep up with its domestic and international neighbours– where similar pilot projects have been in effect since 2016 in Ontario11 and where twenty-two U.S. states have already enacted autonomous vehicles legislation – the Québec government announced in its late-March budget that it will allocate $5 million to the City of Montréal for pilot projects intended to test autonomous electric vehicles.