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:
- 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.
- 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;
- 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
- 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.”