An updated driverless testing code for the UK recognises remote operators

The UK Government has published a revised Code of Practice on trials of automated vehicles. This is open for comments until 6 May 2019.

Following experience with the first version of the code published in 2015, the revised document makes a number of changes. Developers of vehicles and systems should review it carefully to highlight anything that they feel needs to be changed. We identify two areas that may be of interest where the guidance has been updated.

  • Safety driver and operator requirements

The 2015 code required the presence of a human driver to supervise the vehicle during on-road testing.

“4.1 During testing of automated vehicles on public roads or in other public places, a suitably licenced and trained test driver or test operator should supervise the vehicle at all times and be ready and able to over-ride automated operation if necessary.

Although not explicit, this was understood to require the driver to be within the vehicle overseeing its functioning. This has been changed in the 2019 code, with the addition of an acknowledgement that the driver might not be in the vehicle.

“1.12 During trials, it is a legal requirement that there is a safety driver or safety operator ready and able to override the vehicle, though not necessarily within the vehicle.”

The 2019 code requires the safety driver, whether inside or separate from the vehicle, to be “monitoring both the road traffic environment, and vehicles systems” and able to “resume proper control if necessary, even if the system does not issue a takeover demand”.

 A new section on remote-controlled operation is introduced (paragraphs 5.8-5.11).Developers must deploy real-time supervision of the vehicle, with fail-safe communication links.

Going even further, the Government recognises “the growing desire to conduct more advanced trials on public roads”. Where these might fall outside the current law, developers are invited to contact the Department for Transport's CCAV unit in order to explore what options might be available.

  • Engagement

The discussion of engagement is expanded considerably. Section 3 of the 2019 code explores the range of stakeholders developers should engage with, including a non-exhaustive list of public authorities and agencies, as well as landowners and the public. New requirements include making available an abridged version of the safety case for the public.

Although extensive engagement is likely to support the conduct of trials and broader public acceptance in the longer term, developers might like to consider the range and depth of engagement called for. Smaller organisations could find compliance in this area more challenging.

Parallel law reform project

The 2019 code mentions the three-year legal review currently being carried out by the Law Commission. We have submitted comments on the opening phase of that project – you can access our response here.

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