Self-Driving Vehicles: On The Road To Becoming A Reality

Published date23 January 2024
Subject MatterTransport, Technology, Rail, Road & Cycling, New Technology
Law FirmNorton Rose Fulbright Hong Kong
AuthorCaroline May, Lucy Bruce Jones, Giulia Barbone, Alysha Patel and Andrew Swarbrick

A new legal framework to regulate the approval and use of self-driving vehicles within Great Britain has recently been introduced to Parliament. The Automated Vehicles Bill (the AV Bill) is intended to place Great Britain at the forefront of introducing self-driving vehicles to the road. The AV Bill implements the recommendations of a 4-year review undertaken jointly by the Law Commissions of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission (the Joint Review).

The AV Bill will apply to "vehicle systems that are capable of driving a vehicle, for some or all of a journey, with no human input." It therefore deals with some novel concepts, such as who is responsible for following the rules of the road when an automated vehicle (an AV) is being used and who should be responsible in the event an autonomous driving system makes an error.

Within this article we consider two different questions relating to the safety of AVs. First, how will regulatory authorities ensure an AV meets the relevant safety requirements before it is deployed and secondly, how will in-use safety be managed and regulated.

Approval of AVs

The Secretary of State will have the power to authorise a road vehicle for use as an AV if it meets the "self-driving" test (and any other initial authorisation requirements imposed). The self-driving test requires that the AV has a "feature" that enables it to drive autonomously, which means not being controlled by an individual but by equipment, and without the need for an individual to control or monitor the vehicle or its surroundings or to intervene in driving. Where the self-driving test is satisfied, a vehicle or vehicle type can be authorised as an AV.

The AV Bill stipulates that where an AV is in self-driving mode, it must have an authorised self-driving entity (ASDE) that is responsible for the way that the vehicle drives during that time. It was anticipated by the Joint Review that ASDEs would be the vehicle manufacturer, the developer of the automated driving software or a partnership between both of those entities. The ASDE will have a variety of obligations, such as ensuring that the AV meets the self-driving test on a continuing basis and ensuring that the AV can still operate legally in the event that traffic laws change.

Another authorisation requirement that the Secretary of State can impose relates to "transition demands." These are relevant to an AV that can drive itself for only part of a journey and therefore requires an individual...

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