Kennedys warns government over obstacles ahead for autonomous vehicle technology trials

Kennedys is warning the UK Government that it has a number of obstacles to overcome if the UK is to realise its ambition to be at the forefront of emerging autonomous vehicle technology.

In a response submitted today to the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles on the Safe Use of Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS), which could lead to the legalisation of “lane keeping” technology and allow drivers to relinquish control of a vehicle, Kennedys says that consumer confidence in the technology will be key.

It is calling on the Government to launch a public information campaign to ensure ‘buy-in’ from consumers. Kennedys highlighted its own research – which was one of the largest studies on attitudes to autonomous vehicles – that showed public acceptance of widespread autonomous vehicle technology is far from guaranteed and that without it, governments around the world will struggle to implement the technology.

The Government must establish a trusted data framework and listen to the views of end-users in order to realise its vision of technical leadership.

Kennedys is also calling for unimpeded access to otherwise proprietary data from those systems supporting ALKS to be made available to those who need it. Manufacturers are not currently required to provide this information and so Kennedys is calling for an urgent review of UK legislation, and for a minimum standard of data supplied to be agreed.

Kennedys argues that it is neither “tenable nor realistic for both manufacturers and insurers to set conditions on data sharing”. It urges the Government to take a lead in ensuring data is externally accessible to interested parties such as police, accident reconstruction experts, engineers and insurers in an agreed usable format to avoid potentially lengthy litigation, or in some cases, parties not being able to seek justice. Recognising the Government’s strategic desire to support data-driven innovation through the new use of technologies, Kennedys says that a clearer policy framework is needed to enable the economic growth that autonomous vehicle innovation will allow.

The current regulatory framework for ALKS vehicles falls under AEVA (Autonomous and Electric Vehicles Act 2018). However, Kennedys has raised concerns over AEVA’s suitability. AEVA was a preliminary piece of legislation that was designed to ‘kick-start’ this area, and uses very broad terms, which are difficult to apply to the very specific driving environment of these trials.

Kennedys also highlights the minimum risk manoeuvre (MRM) a pre-programmed manoeuvre which all ALKS-enabled vehicles will switch to if a risk is anticipated and the driver hasn’t taken back control. Currently, the MRM is set for the vehicle to come to a complete stop within its lane, but even at sub-37mph this can pose serious danger to the vehicles’ occupants and other road users. Kennedys says that isn’t ‘minimum risk’ and drivers who do so can find themselves both criminally culpable or negligent in civil claims. “The law will need to be very clear about where culpability lies in the case of an accident under such conditions,” it says.

The call for evidence considers the safe use of ALKS  in heavy traffic conditions at speeds of up to 37mph, also exploring its potential application at up to 70mph. Kennedys was clear in its response that “autonomous technology will need to be rolled out in a controlled and phased manner”, and certainly not at this point in time at speeds of up to 70mph.

Kennedys’ response also covered a driver’s failure to stop at and report an accident, the firm called for clarity over whether the onus lies with the driver, or the vehicle – pointing out that from a civil claims handling angle, motor insurers will have very serious concerns about any failure to register low-energy collisions.

Deborah Newberry, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs at Kennedys, says: “The Government’s ambition to place the UK at the forefront of new technologies, and data-driven innovation is clear and commendable.  However, that shift requires a suitable policy framework to achieve those aims and, in particular, address concerns around public safety, where the liability rests when accidents occur and data security.

“Faced with these challenges, the Government needs to take heed of these issues and support data-driven innovation in a joined up and comprehensive way. The Government must establish a trusted data framework and listen to the views of end-users in order to realise its vision of technical leadership.”