UK Government issues new code of practice for testing automated vehicles

Doug Jenkins, Specialist Business Resilience Manager - Motor in Guest blog

28 February 2019

February 2019 has brought with it more than longer evenings and unseasonably mild weather, it has brought some interesting news for the world of vehicle autonomy. Earlier this month, the UK Government committed their support to advancing the safe trials of Autonomous Vehicles by issuing a new autonomous testing code of practice. The appetite from industry to expand the trialling of advanced automated vehicle technologies on public highways has been rapidly increasing; it is promising that the UK Government has recognised this. The new strengthened guidelines are another step towards ensuring that the UK continues to lead the world in vehicle autonomy and driverless cars. Many have welcomed these guidelines, but what actually is the code of practice and how far does it go?

The code of practice, first published in 2015, provides guidance on the trialling of AVs on public roads in the UK, whilst making clear recommendations for maintaining safety and mitigating risks. As you can imagine it is a lengthy and technical document, but the important legal requirements in it could ultimately result in self-driving cars being safely tested on public roads by the end of the year.

What are the key updates you need to know and why are they important?

First, any trialling organisation will need to ensure they have a safety driver or operator, in or out of the vehicle, who is ready to resume control of the vehicle if necessary. This represents an important change; for advanced trials, no longer will a safety operator need to be physically in an AV being tested on UK roads. However, a test must have a remote safety operator monitoring both the road traffic environment and vehicle systems so they can resume proper control, even if the system does not issue a takeover request. Without the updated code of practice, the regulations surrounding testing AVs would have left more sophisticated testing outside of UK law, stalling the technology’s growth.

Second, those carrying out trials will be required to obtain appropriate insurance, publish safety information, performance reports and produce a safety case which includes extensive risks assessments before trials can take place. The focus placed on the provision of transparent safety case information is vital to ensure the responsibilities of trialling organisations is clear and to accelerate open data sharing across the various AV stakeholders. Trialling organisations have also been recommended to develop plans for police investigators and other relevant organisations to readily and immediately access data relating to an incident. This feeds into the wider importance of data in AVs; we have been saying for a long time that the provision, ownership and access to data is an essential feature of the testing and deployment of AVs and their acceptance by consumers. The next stage for Government and industry should be to collaborate to structure a ‘data map’ for the growing CAV ecosystem. That way we can identify who needs to access data, what type of data and when. 

Our partnership with five Government backed AV projects has shown us that a crucial benefit of AVs is the potential to drastically reduce motor vehicle accidents. Therefore, it is essential that driverless cars have the highest safety standards possible. Regulation must always keep up with this fast-moving industry, so the renewed intent shown by the Government is a welcomed start to 2019.

So, what’s next for the code of practice? Well, considering the important nature of the new guidelines, the Government have opened a consultation inviting stakeholders to provide their feedback. Over the next few months, I look forward to digging deeper into the technical detail outlined in the code before the consultation deadline in May.