Towards connected and automated mobility: bringing technology and people together

Brian Wong, Legal Director, Burges Salmon LLP and David Williams, Managing Director, Underwriting and Technical Services, AXA Insurance UK, 21st September 2021

The future of transport promises exciting new technologies and applications on connected, shared and automated mobility on a grand scale. This encompasses, amongst other things, connected mobility services, Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), demand responsive transport, shared mobility services or connected and automated vehicles (CAVs). Certainly, the pace of technological change and innovation being delivered by engineers, developers, technologists, designers and planners (many based in the UK) is rapid and accelerating. Many of those successes were rightly celebrated at the most recent session of the Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) APPG, a group launched at the beginning of this year by Ben Everitt, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes North, with support from AXA and Burges Salmon to ensure the UK continues to build momentum in researching, developing and deploying CAM. At the meeting, the Minister for Investment, Lord Grimstone, gave a keynote speech on Government’s priorities for the CAM space and the industry made its case for continued investment in this high growth sector.

However, there is a component of the Connected and Automated Mobility ecosystem that arguably has not been and continues not to be talked about enough. The human. In the context of transport, technology for technology’s sake is meaningless without bringing transport users with you. It is an area that Burges Salmon and AXA have focussed on from the outset, from the very first of the UK-sponsored CAV trials, VENTURER, where we examined regulatory, safety, liability and insurance issues, and in subsequent trials, where we have examined data use, cybersecurity, accessibility and commercial use cases. Public acceptability of new and emerging technology is absolutely critical to CAM’s success. Effective regulation and compulsory insurance are part of the public assurance piece but there remains a lot of work to do on this front.

A timely reminder of that has arrived in the Future of Transport: Deliberative Research report commissioned by the Department for Transport. The report followed studies undertaken across the entire UK into public attitudes to CAVs, MaaS and shared mobility services and, given the timing of the studies, was in part looking specifically at the impact of COVID-19 on these. It is compulsory reading for any stakeholder or prospective stakeholder in CAM.

The report offers insight into and confirmation of familiar themes in respect of better articulating and differentiating MaaS from existing journey planning and current consumer preference for shared access to vehicles as opposed to ride sharing in the same, especially small, vehicle. On CAVs, there were some favourable indications including a recognition of data sharing as part of a safety assurance framework but overall safety and safety perception (including cybersecurity) remained the primary concerns and barriers to acceptance. Here, four levers were identified to achieve public acceptance of CAVs as ‘safe enough’ to use:

  • Building public knowledge about the capabilities of autonomous technology;
  • Normalising the concept and presence of CAV technology;
  • Educating and upskilling the public, but particularly drivers; and
  • Introducing CAVs initially with ‘performative safety’ measures to ease some of the initial tensions the public have around placing trust and control in the hands of technology.

Some of these levers are being pulled through the public vehicle trials that continue to be undertaken in the UK’s cities as well as test beds. It reinforces why many of these trials have been conducted with public engagement strategies in place and offering the public a chance to see and touch the technology. However, as trialling accelerates and people become more and more exposed to and familiar with the technology, it does point to a number of areas of focus for public engagement and acceptability. AXA and Burges Salmon believe these should include:

  1. The industry needs to work to promote the technology and its benefits positively to the wider public in news and media coverage whilst avoiding sensationalism. To this we would add that the industry also needs to work harder to counteract news coverage that is often unduly negative such as when incidents occur that do not involve automated driving at all For example, many high profile injury or fatality incidents that are reported involve driver assistance features or were under the control of a safety driver at the time but are often reported as incidents caused by ‘self-driving’ or ‘driverless’ cars.
  2. As the industry looks to initial deployments it should aim to be more transparent and exhibit more visible safety features and measures than might be considered strictly necessary. This approach of ‘conspicuous safety’ would flow over in part from the approach adopted in many trials to date but would assist the public in developing trust and reassurance;
  3. There must be greater effort in educating the public (including but not restricted to drivers) on safe use and interaction with CAVs. There are already indications in the nascent market of a degree of ‘automation confusion’ developing in the general public as to what are and are not automated vehicles and features and that has the potential to impact safe use as well public acceptability of the technology; and
  4. Government has a responsibility to ensure that safe automated driving is clearly defined, and public trust has been sufficiently established. This is particularly important for interim technologies that sit close to the boundary lines between assisted and automated driving such as Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS). There remain regulatory and technological challenges for ALKS around lane change ability, access to incident data and data triggering for low-impact collisions. The classification of ALKS systems as ‘automated’ without proper differentiation could damage consumer confidence in automated vehicles as a whole before regulation is clearly defined and more sophisticated technologies become commercially available. Not only would this impact the UK’s ‘Future of Mobility’ project it could undermine public acceptability of similarly advanced technologies. A vital step will be prioritising the next steps following publication of the Law Commission’s regulatory review.

These themes will be picked up further and explored in the context of future transport proposals and reforms (including at the CAM APPG) as they are essential pieces of the jigsaw. Indeed, as this article and the research report highlight, they are arguably the foremost and most challenging of pieces to address. Nevertheless, unlocking public acceptance is potentially the key to all else. As Steve Jobs once mused:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.”

Driving the debate: AXA UK and Burges Salmon launch a cross-party parliamentary group on Connected and Automated Mobility

‘Connected and Automated Mobility’ (CAM) is the term used to describe the eco-system developing and supporting vehicles that can move people and goods without human intervention. CAM technologies have the potential to revolutionise our road network in the UK and globally. Not only can CAM make our roads safer by taking human error out of the driving experience, it will make transport more accessible for those currently unable to get around, drive growth for the UK economy, and importantly minimise air pollution and improve our climate.

Like any new technology, to ensure society can really feel the benefits of it, it’s important that when CAM is introduced to our roads it’s done so safely and with the correct legal and regulatory framework underpinning it. To do this, we need strong collaboration across government, industry, academia and wider society. This is why AXA UK and Burges Salmon have launched a new CAM All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). The Group’s purpose is to bring CAM expertise into Parliament to shape future thinking into how we roll out this exciting technology across the UK.

The APPG is delighted to be supported by the newly elected Chair, Ben Everitt, MP for Milton Keynes North – a hotbed for testing and utilising CAM technology, and is Vice-Chaired by Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby and previous Government Transport Minister. In our inaugural meeting last week, entitled ‘What’s next for driverless’, Ben introduced the Group to over 90 ‘virtual’ attendees by highlighting the important work taking place across the UK testing, trialling and developing the future of mobility. He then ran through some of the key challenges the APPG and CAM stakeholders will need to tackle in order to keep the momentum up on self-driving technologies.

 As a Group, we hope to address challenges such as consumer education, to utilising data in a responsible way, and to explore this exciting area of technology with Parliamentarians from across the political divide.

Alongside MPs and Peers, the Group was joined by an expert panel of speakers:

  • Zenzic, an organisation created by government and industry to help accelerate the development of the CAM ecosystem. Zenzic bring together industry, government and academia to drive collaboration, deliver a roadmap to guide decision makers and investors and champion the UK’s connected and self-driving vehicle ecosystem globally.
  • Law Commission of England and Wales’ Automated Vehicles Review. Commissioned by the Centre for Connected and Automated Vehicles (CCAV), the Law Commission is undertaking a three-year review of the UK’s regulatory framework for automated vehicles, to support their safe and effective deployment on UK roads.
  • Burges Salmon, an Independent UK law firm leading on critical analysis and thinking on legal and regulatory reform for CAM, grounded in actual testing experience through involvement in five CCAV projects. Burges Salmon’s work includes feasibility, research and development and commercialisation projects, and working with innovative mobility solutions providers.
  • AXA UK,one of the largest UK motor insurers. AXA has been involved in the CAM space since 2014. Recognising the potential to make travel safer for their customers AXA has partnered five CCAV projects to support on road safety issues, insurance provision, regulation and data. AXA was a lead contributor to the progression of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 to ensure insurance is ready for CAM and its users.

Our speakers covered so much ground in what was a fascinating discussion, touching on collaboration, funding, the legal challenges, the importance of data and building public trust. Here are some of the key take outs:

Collaboration

Self-driving vehicles are more than just a technological innovation. To truly be a success CAM involves other transport systems adapting, as well as society opening-up to the technology and growing our understanding of its capabilities and limitations. It also requires the economy to first invest in the technology and then feel the reward of having done so. Everyone is a key player in CAM, which is why collaboration is so important.  

You can see how important collaboration is through examples like Zenzic, AXA and Burges Salmon actively working together to develop safety frameworks at the testbeds they support, which can then be used by all trial organisations in the UK. This is the type of collaboration that can speed innovation up.

But it’s not just about sharing key learnings. A successful CAM sector requires stakeholders beyond the technology industry to create world beating propositions together. Sectors like transport, retail, law and insurance. Historically these groups have worked separately, but now is the time to come together and create a successful industry.

Funding

The UK is a world leader in the development and regulation of CAM technology, largely due to the £400 million invested by government and industry over recent years. But we are now at an important juncture in the journey towards CAM becoming commonplace on UK roads. Whilst the groundwork and ecosystem for these vehicles has been laid, continued government and private sector funding is vital to fulfil the UK’s potential in this space.

The benefits of the technology criss-cross government departments, from BEIS to DCMS, and so a collaborative, holistic approach to funding and policy is necessary to ensure we remain ‘a tech maker, rather than a tech taker’.

Legal challenges

While Law is sometimes perceived to be a blocker, this is certainly not the case for CAM, the law will shape a framework that enables the deployment of CAM on UK roads. The Law Commission’s aim is that this legal framework will be applicable to trials beyond Great Britain, acting as a standard for the rest of the world.

But some of the key legal issues remain, for example, at what point can you safely and legally disengage from driving and your vehicle become ‘self-driving’? The challenges we spoke about included:

  • Changing the criminal responsibility for driving. If a person isn’t responsible for an accident, then who is? There will be important moments that require drivers to be attentive and take actions within a reasonable time period, but how do you legally define if/when a driver has met this requirement whilst the technology develops?
  • Putting in place a new, clear, safety assurance scheme, with additional statutory responsibilities and powers. To have confidence in these vehicles, we must ensure self-driving vehicles are safe and secure by design. For all forms of CAM, we need to determine how safe is safe enough and what is the standard of safety we expect from these vehicles as a minimum?
  • Enabling legal frameworks that work for different business models. There are two paths to automation, 1) consumer vehicles with a human in the driving seat working in set operational design domains such as on a motorway and 2) providers selling a service rather than a vehicle, with no driving seat like logistical delivery services. The legal framework must work for both.
  • Underpinning the legal framework with requirements around access to data that are possible to achieve. As you see below, data is really important in this whole debate. The legal framework needs to set expectations around data standards that work for the long-term. Although, this might require some flexibility in the system so that we can make improvements along the way.  

Data

The CAM ecosystem is by definition connected; it is fuelled by big data. In an automated vehicle, built-in sensors will be processing and analysing data in milliseconds, making data a critical enabler to the success of this technology. Utilising data in the right way could improve the efficiency of these vehicles at the same time as building our trust and confidence in them. But, we all know, the potential of data can only be properly unlocked if there are robust standards and sharing frameworks, covering accuracy, reliability, technical requirements and consumer interests.

Now that we are seeing the introduction of some low-level CAM technologies on UK roads, it’s more important than ever that we ensure the correct data requirements are in place. For insurers and road authorities, data is imperative. We all hope that accidents never happen, but if they do, insurers and law enforcers need to be able to determine liability through appropriate access to data from the vehicle or manufacturer, so those involved can see their claims settled quickly or trigger their legal rights. Whilst that sounds straight forward, in practice it requires new provisions for lawful access of incident data and a robust compliance framework to be introduced to accompany it.

Data is a complex topic which impacts a whole range of CAM stakeholders, you can see how a collaborative approach will be important to appropriately unlock the data challenge facing this technology.

Public Trust

Finally, at this APPG session we discussed public trust and consumer education. The two go hand-in-hand.  While the technology is new and exciting, it can also be a worry for members of the public. As we start to put autonomous vehicles on the roads, government and industry must carefully communicate the benefits and the limitations of new self-driving technologies ensuring users are always aware of their responsibilities when they sit in or encounter these vehicles. Building proper consumer understanding will minimise the risk of misinterpretation or accidents with the technology, which could ultimately set public trust back.

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