UK Motor Technology Plan Needs Clarity

A leading barrister has told emerg-in the Act that will regulate the UK’s plans to introduce Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) requires clarification around the issue of liability.

Alex Glassbrook, Barrister at Temple Garden Chambers, was speaking after the Department of Transport announced it was progressing steps to introduce automated technology with the launch of a call for evidence to help shape how innovative new systems could be used in future on GB roads.

The call for evidence will look at the ALKS, an automated system that can take over control of the vehicle at low speeds, keeping it in lane on motorways.

This technology is designed to enable drivers, for the first time ever, to delegate the task of driving to the vehicle. When activated, the system keeps the vehicle within its lane, controlling its movements for extended periods of time without the driver needing to do anything. The driver must be ready and able to resume driving control when prompted by the vehicle.

The government said it is seeking views from industry on the role of the driver and proposed rules on the use of this system to pave the way towards introducing it safely in Great Britain, within the current legal framework.

The call for evidence will ask whether vehicles using this technology should be legally defined as an automated vehicle, which would mean the technology provider would be responsible for the safety of the vehicle when the system is engaged, rather than the driver.

The call for evidence also seeks views on government proposals to allow the safe use of this system on British roads at speeds of up to 70mph.

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said: “Automated technology could make driving safer, smoother and easier for motorists and the UK should be the first country to see these benefits, attracting manufacturers to develop and test new technologies.

“The UK’s work in this area is world leading and the results from this call for evidence could be a significant step forward for this exciting technology.”

Following the approval of ALKS Regulation in June 2020 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), of which the UK is a member, the technology is likely to be available in cars entering the UK market from Spring 2021.

The news has received backing from road organisations who believe that system will reduce accidents.

“Over the last 50 years, leading edge in-car technology from seat belts to airbags and ABS has helped to save thousands of lives,” said Edmund King President of the AA. “The government is right to be consulting on the latest collision-avoidance system which has the potential to make our roads even safer in the future.”

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive, of The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said: “Automated technologies for vehicles, of which automated lane keeping is the latest, will be life-changing, making our journeys safer and smoother than ever before and helping prevent some 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade.

“This advanced technology is ready for roll out in new models from as early as 2021, so today’s announcement is a welcome step in preparing the UK for its use, so we can be among the first to grasp the benefits of this road safety revolution.”

“As automated technology in vehicles continues to improve, it must be used safely by drivers in the UK,” he added. “By issuing a call for evidence we are giving those with information or concerns about ALKS technology an opportunity to help shape future policy.”

Mr Glassbrook said the Act which covered the use of autonomous technology was predicated on the removal of the need for human interaction with the vehicle.

“The laws of road vehicles have, until recently, all assumed a human driver,” he added. “The new law, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEVA 2018), received royal assent over 2 years ago but has not yet been brought into force.

“That Act looked to the future and defined an ‘automate’ vehicle as one that ‘does not need to be monitored’ by a human driver. That Act extended compulsory insurance of motor vehicles to such automated vehicles of the future –and allowed the victim of an AV accident the right to sue the insurer directly.”

However, Mr Glassbrook said the Act was not comprehensive and could be open to challenge.

“The 2018 Act left a gap, into which accidents involving technology like Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS, or ‘traffic jam chauffeur’ technology) might fall,” he explained. “The Act does not cover vehicles which ‘do not need to be monitored’ by a driver. And ALKS must be monitored by the driver.

“Among other issues, such as driver training and the driver’s duty to resume control from ALKS, the Department of Transport’s call for evidence on ALKS recognises that central problem: should traffic jam chauffeur be brought within the definition of ‘automated’, so as to give accident victims the AEVA 2018 right to sue the insurer directly?”