The Government has published its hotly awaited Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. The draft legislation was introduced to the House of Commons on 18 October and the second reading begins today (23 October).
The provisions largely mirror an earlier version of the bill, the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which was abandoned due to the general election. Although slightly behind schedule, the legislation will pave the way for driverless vehicles to be tested on UK roads by 2019.
The Bill, which is based on insurance industry proposals, proposes to extend compulsory motor insurance to include the use of autonomous vehicle. The Bill maintains a single insurer model, where a motor insurer covers both the driver’s use of the vehicle and the autonomous vehicle technology.
An injured party (including the automated vehicle 'driver') will be able to claim compensation from the insurer of the automated vehicle when being used in autonomous mode. In turn, the insurer will have a right of recovery from vehicle and software manufacturers under existing common law and product liability legislation.
The Bill provides two exemptions to the single insurer policy. Liability may be excluded or limited if the insured driver has made or allowed unauthorised modifications to the automated vehicle or failed to install a software update.
In addition, insurers and vehicle owners will not be liable if the automated vehicle user was negligent in allowing the vehicle to drive itself when it was not appropriate to do so. Satellite litigation on what is to be considered 'negligent' is expected.
"Automated vehicles" are to be defined in the Bill by reference to a definitive list of vehicles, which is to be set and administered by the Secretary of State. The proposals make it clear that automated vehicles are only those that are capable of “operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, by an individual”. This equates to levels 4 and 5 of the SAE International's J3016 standard (also known as: Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems).
It is to be hoped the Bill's current legislative momentum continues and it has a relatively smooth journey through Parliament, not least to allow the Government to satisfy its stated aim of creating a "leading hub for modern transport technology". However, current concerns regarding Brexit's impact on the legislative timetable makes this anything but a certainty.