The Law Commission of England and Wales have today published a paper asking for views on the need and options for regulating remote driving on public roads.
Technology that enables an individual to drive a vehicle from a remote location already exists today – operating in controlled environments such as warehouses, farms and mines. The new paper considers how the existing legal framework applies to remote driving on roads shared with other road users.
The Commission paper focuses on remote driving where the driver does not have full line of sight and may be in a remote operations centre many miles from the vehicle.
Remote driving leads to many safety challenges, including:
- Connectivity: how can a reliable connection between the remote driver and vehicle be ensured and how can safety risks be mitigated if connectivity is lost?
- Situational awareness: how can drivers remain aware of their surroundings through a screen without (for example) the “feel” of acceleration?
- Keeping remote drivers alert: how can the risk of fatigue, motion sickness and distraction be overcome?
- Cybersecurity: how can unauthorised takeover of vehicles be prevented?
The Law Commission highlights uncertainties and risks in the way current legislation applies to remote driving. It seeks views on new regulations in both the short and long term to address these challenges.
One possibility is that vehicles on British roads could be remotely driven from abroad. This has the potential to create serious practical and legal difficulties in enforcement. The Law Commission asks whether driving from abroad should be prohibited.
The Law Commission’s paper was informed by a review of domestic legislation and how other countries regulate remote driving, including Japan, Germany, Finland, the United States and Australia. It also builds on work started in 2018 alongside the Scottish Law Commission on a new legal framework to enable self-driving vehicles. The Commissions’ joint report with recommendations was published in January this year.
Views can be submitted to the Law Commission until 2 September 2022.
Commenting on the new paper, Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner said:
“Remote driving technology is already capable of being used on our roads. We hope our issues paper can contribute to a healthy debate about the appropriate regulation of this technology and what can be done to maximise protection of road users while encouraging innovation.
“We look forward to hearing views on the challenges and possible ways to solve them.”
Background on the project
The Law Commission was asked by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and Department for Transport to review the legal status and reform options for remote driving.
The project builds on work the Law Commission has undertaken in the field of automated vehicles since 2018. Its joint report with the Scottish Law Commission published in January 2022 contains recommendations for UK government to make changes to legislation to enable the deployment of automated vehicles on British roads.
The Law Commissions are seeking views on the issues paper until 2 September 2022. The Commission will use the feedback provided to draft advice for UK Government on reform options for remote driving by January 2023.