Driving the debate: AXA UK and Burges Salmon host the second meeting of the Connected and Automated Mobility APPG on Self-driving technologies: How safe is safe enough?

Self-driving vehicles have long been considered as an opportunity to reduce the biggest contributing factor to road collisions, human error. Numerous research projects have found human error contributes to between 85% and 95% of current road collisions, and so many take the view that fully autonomous technology will result in a significant reduction in injuries and fatalities on UK roads. However, to reap the road safety rewards from self-driving technologies and enable societal acceptance the legal and regulatory environment must prioritise safety.

But how safe is safe enough? This was the question posed at the second session of the Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) APPG. AXA UK and Burges Salmon built on the support received from industry and politicians following the launch of the APPG in January by hosting a consultative session with the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission. Held on the eve of the Commission’s final regulatory consultation deadline, the APPG heard from Law Commission lead lawyers on their three-year review and the role of Parliament in implementing the framework. 

The APPG’s Chair, Ben Everitt MP, welcomed over 75 virtual attendees to the meeting and highlighted the important work currently taking place across the UK on self-driving technologies including testing, trialling and developing the future of mobility. Ben ran through some of the key challenges the APPG and CAM stakeholders will need to tackle to keep up the momentum on self-driving technologies. He recognised the significant work underway by the Law Commission and the need for Parliamentarians of all sides to be ready to engage with self-driving regulation.

The Group was joined by an expert panel of speakers from the Law Commission including:

  • Nicholas Paines QC – Commissioner, Law Commission of England and Wales
  • Jessica Uguccioni – Automated Vehicles Review Lead Lawyer, Law Commission of England and Wales
  • Connor Champ – Lawyer, Law Commission of England
  • Elizabeth Connaughton – Legal Assistant, Scottish Law Commission 
  • David Bartos – Commissioner, Scottish Law Commission

The expert panel delivered two presentations to the APPG. The first, led by Jessica, focused on the meaning of self-driving and how safe is safe enough and the second, led by Connor and Elizabeth, looked at the ongoing safety monitoring, no-blame safety culture and the importance of data. Attendees were invited to pose questions to the speakers throughout the event, with most chiming with what the Law Commission is considering in their consultation.

During the session, MPs, Peers and industry stakeholders had the opportunity to give evidence and feedback on the approach proposed by the Law Commission in their far-reaching review of the legal framework for self-driving vehicles. The final publication of this review, expected at the end of 2021, will be a key moment for the future of transport in the UK and the CAM APPG is at the forefront of exploring these issues in Parliament.

Here are some of the key take aways from the meeting.

Legal Framework

How safe is safe enough? – The introduction of automated vehicles should see the number of fatalities on roads across the UK plummet. However, the only way to ensure this is by constructing a legal architecture that guarantees safety across the board and the level of risk must be acceptable to the road-using public. The Law Commission noted the current legal framework provides the platform to react to the arrival of automated vehicles and the areas covered in the first two consultations conducted by the Law Commission were discussed, ahead of formulating recommendations at the end of this year.

‘Driver’ in the car – Ensuring public trust and informing the public about the nature of the legal changes was discussed in detail, with attendees agreeing there must be a way to bring people along with this technology. The Law Commission questioned introducing systems where the driver has an Automated Driving System (ADS) engaged but not in control, noting it is a fundamental shift in legal parameters. It was also noted that the UK is the only legal system looking at person ‘in seat’ as separate to a driver. The discussion questioned how you define a system where the driver is not in control as, where once we had a system of full liability, it is moving to a design whereby you switch on an approved automated system and do not need to look after the system until there’s a potential warning.  

Consumer Protection – The meeting also looked at ensuring flexibility in the regulatory framework to assess the safety of a system, but one that remains explainable to consumers. The regulatory system, although stringent on approving on-boarding systems to any vehicle, still has the ultimate fall back of driver in charge with no ADS technology.

All things Data

Data Privacy – Increasing the regulatory burden on manufacturers and developers, particularly to implement safe systems, was discussed as it increases concerns about data privacy. The CAM ecosystem is connected and fuelled by big data so the meeting looked at how we can we design a system and bring people along without a perceived intrusion of privacy.

Regulatory standards in the future must require self-driving vehicles to record the location and time which any ADS is activated and deactivated to aid incident investigation. It was recognised that bringing users and manufacturers on-board with education about the duty of all to disclose this necessary data will be crucial. Currently, the Law Commission has set the parameters for Data Storage System for Automated Driving (DSSAD) data to be stored on a system for three years to comply with civil limitation periods, and this like other measures will be subject to review.

The discussions confirmed that delivering a comprehensive regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles is a complex topic. However, following on from the first APPG meeting, there was broad agreement that a collaborative approach is important to inform and build public trust in the future on self-driving vehicles.

Next steps

The APPG meeting summarised the state of play and timeline for the implementation of the Law Commission’s final report. It was recognised that UN approved Automated Lane Keeping Systems could be on UK motorways by the end of this year, if approved by the UK Government. Parliament will play a crucial role going forward to implement the regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles and assessing the Government’s approach to interim measures such as ALKS while the comprehensive regulatory framework resulting from the Law Commission’s review is developed. Government, Parliament and industry will all need to play their part in building public confidence and delivering a sustainable model for CAM in the future.

The CAM APPG will be hosting its next session in due course. If you are interested in CAM, have any questions, or would like to join our subscription list for event invites and updates, contact us at appgcam@cicero-group.com.

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