ITS (UK) calls for a “Digital Highway Code”

February 19 2019

Expert members of the UK’s Intelligent Transport Society, ITS (UK), are calling for a Digital Highway Code to be written to define the legal basis for implementation of Connected and Automated Vehicles on Britain’s road network.

The Society has responded to a Law Commission consultation about legal matters surrounding CAVs and says the Digital Highways Code is needed . This would to define the expected behaviour of any vehicle, be it CAV or an existing one, the specific behaviour of a CAV and the behaviour of other vehicles and road users around CAVs.

ITS (UK) says it would welcome the chance to explore this with the Commission.

The consultation aims to help lawmakers understand what changes to legislation are required to cope with new connected and automated vehicle technology and at what point in the Level 0-5 automation scale new laws are required.

In its response, the experts also suggested a new law should be created specifically to deal with people who maliciously interfere with driverless vehicles or the infrastructure supporting them and that law and policy must adapt to technology, especially in this area as there is huge potential for economic loss or loss of life.

ITS (UK)’s response agreed that full Level 5 connectivity is desirable because otherwise many of the perceived benefits to users such as working, watching a film or eating en route would not be achieved.  However they noted that Level 5 vehicles will have challenges detecting hazards and so will default to “safe” modes of operation which could have impacts on traffic networks in early mixed fleets that may then be hazardous.

The response covered advice to the Law Commission on handover between systems and the driver and also the need for any legal changes to take into account the wider infrastructure and its communications.  This will have a significant bearing on the way driverless vehicles are operated.  Experts urged the Commission to include consideration for how current offences are dealt with in the future, such as those involving on-street parking, in car parks and on private land, as well as bus lanes encroachment and illegal manoeuvres such as box junctions.

The ITS (UK) members who responded disagreed with an idea to define a new role of “user in charge” for autonomous vehicles, instead suggesting the law continue with the term “driver” in all but Level 5 driverless vehicles, saying the new definition is unnecessary given the importance of the role of somebody taking over control in any vehicle except one which is fully automated.

Chair of ITS (UK)’s Connected and Automated Forum, Andy Graham, commented, “With so much hype around CAVs and some wildly different timescales being discussed, it is vital that those who work on the day to day operation of roads technology across the UK have a voice of reason in the debate.  The quality of feedback we got from members was excellent and allowed us to submit feedback I hope helps the Law Commission in its work.”

ITS (UK) Secretary General Jennie Martin added, “This is exactly the sort of work ITS (UK) excels in – drawing together our members’ views into one well-argued document that carries much more weight than if each member tried to respond on their own.  We will continue to deliver our advice to law and policy makers on this and other matters.”

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