Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill

Written evidence submitted by Unite (VTAB 08)

1 Introduction

1.1 This response is submitted by Unite the Union, the UK’s largest trade representing over 1.4 million members across all sectors of the economy including transport, manufacturing, financial services, food and agriculture, construction, energy and utilities, information technology, service industries, health, local government and the not for profit sector. Unite represents over a quarter of a million transport workers who are involved in every aspect of moving people and freight around the UK and many more in the manufacturing, support and supply chain. Unite recognises the importance of transport, and transport policy, to the economy and society. [1]

1.2 In this response Unite intends to stress the issues raised by the areas of the Bill that concern Unite and its members. We note that the Aims of the Bill refer to introducing a set of transport policies to modernise the transport system for businesses and passengers. We would be very concerned to state at the outset that modernising the transport system will also have a major impact on transport workers, which needs to be included. Transport workers who are members of Unite have direct experience of the issues referred to and related matters. These include policies for:

· Automated vehicles (AV)

· Electric vehicle infrastructure

· Air traffic control regulations (NATs)


· Road vehicle testing

· Misuse of lasers

· Courses offered as an alternative to driving fixed penalty notices.

2 Key Policies

Automated Vehicles: Monitoring

2.1 Unite is concerned about the ambiguous nature of the definition of an automated vehicle.  In Part 1, 1 (1) (b) the definition is vague and only refers to the vehicle "driving themselves without having to be monitored by an individual".  This does not clarify what "monitoring" means.  Is it that there is no interaction at all by a driver or does there still have to be someone to supervise?  There is interpretation in section 7 but there is no definition of what control of an individual is. The suggested list must be public.  Only by having total transparency can the public have any confidence that the government is ensuring all appropriate safeguards are in place. 

2.2 There are numerous other examples of automated vehicles in development including the production of automated tugs and ferries with a long term goal of having automated long distance container carriers [2] .

Autonomous Vehicles: Insurance Liability

2.3 Unite notes that the Bill proposes that insurers, rather than car manufacturers, would be liable for any accidents provided the car is covered by insurance. The exception to this is: "The accident that it caused was wholly due to the person’s negligence in allowing the vehicle to drive itself when it was not appropriate to do so." Unite is concerned that such a statement needs further clarity. As autonomous vehicles remain in the developmental stage it is currently unclear when ‘it is appropriate’ for a driver to allow a vehicle to drive itself. The onus to clarify this should fall to the Government, not with insurance companies as this leaves motorists and commercial drivers ‘hostages to fortune’.

2.4 The Bill also proposes that the driver of an autonomous vehicle would be liable in the event of an accident if they had altered the vehicle’s software or if they failed to install updates to software, which may be required under the insurance claim. Yet the Bill puts no safeguards in place for manufacturers to provide software updates. The Bill also has no remedy for insurance liability in the event of a manufacturer software malfunction leading to an accident. There is also no clear direction on what would happen in the event that the software is hacked. In addition, as a trade union we would want to see safeguards put in place for workers if the vehicle has technology in it which could be used as a ‘spy in the cab’.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

2.5 Section 10 (Page 35) of the Bill proposes that large fuel retailers and service station operators may be encouraged, via regulation, to provide publically available charging stations for electronic vehicles. Unite is clear that regulation alone is insufficient. Government intervention backed up by serious investment must be marshalled to make the UK a global leader of electric vehicles. As part of the Government’s pledged Industrial Strategy, investment into research and development should aspire to make the UK automotive sector the global leader in electric and autonomous vehicle production. Following the precedent set by Germany, this could be coupled with subsidies and other incentives to encourage consumers and vehicle operators to transition to electronic vehicles.

2.6 As with the move to a low carbon economy more generally, Unite strongly supports action and is calling for a ‘just transition’ to a low-carbon world that ensures workers are treated decently and that promotes high quality jobs [3] . In this instance, thousands of UK workers in the automotive industry continue to work in the production of diesel and petrol powered engines. This includes the BMW plant at Hams Hall, Toyota factory at Deeside, and the Ford Motors factories at Bridgend and Dagenham. The Government must use Industrial Strategy to support UK automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)to become the home of new electric and autonomous vehicle production.

2.7 It is also important to note the impact on the automotive supply chain as electronic vehicles require fewer individual components. For example, the production of a modern car’s internal combustion engine requires some 600 parts, a figure which could be cut by more than a third for some models of electric vehicles. As part of a wider strategy to develop the UK automotive supply chain, investment and access to sources of finance must be made available to factories so they can retool and jobs can be protected.

2.8 The need for a publicly available network of charging stations should then be considered a marquee infrastructure project which stands alongside High-speed Rail 2, the third Heathrow Runway or Hinkley Point C. Such investment is vital to ensure the UK keeps pace with the European Union, where more than 100,000 charging spots are currently available [4] . The European Union has legislated that as of 2019, every newly built or refurbished house must have an EV charging station. By 2023, 10% of all buildings’ parking spaces must have EV chargers. [5] Outside of the European Union, the UK can follow the example of Norway, which has invested in the promotion and development of electric cars and associated infrastructure. Government investment has resulted in over 5,600 public charging stations [6] , making the country a leader in e-vehicles.

2.9 According to the RAC Foundation 46.2 bn litres of petrol and diesel were consumed on the roads of the UK in 2015, up 0.5 bn on the year before. If the UK is to meet its carbon budgets this figure needs to come down dramatically and a conversion to electrical power will require a massive investment in electrical generation. While coal generation has decreased by 30% since 2010, in the past year alone, renewable capacity has increased by 24% and actual generation by 29% to 83,550 GWh. The power sector reduced its carbon emissions by 13% and was the largest single contributor to the decrease in UK emissions between 2014 and 2015. Over 40GW of power generation will be needed to replace retiring plant, deliver against our carbon targets and meet increasing demand. Over £140bn needs to be invested in new generation capacity to 2030, along with a further £40bn investment in enhancing the network.

2.10 These projections on energy demands do not assume that all vehicles will become electrically powered in this time scale but that there will be a gradual change. Even so it is highly doubtful that the national grid will be up to the task of transmitting the demand from road users to charge their vehicles. In the Bill it is suggesting a wholesale move to electrically propelled vehicles. Whilst this would be great for the environment, if the power was generated from zero carbon or low carbon sources, but to do this would require a substantial increase in infrastructure needed to transmit and deliver this power to the charging stations, which does not appear to be addressed.

Air Traffic Control Regulations (NATs)

2.11 Whilst Unite members are directly affected by the decisions of Air Traffic Control (ATC), Unite’s membership does not extend to this area of Civil Air Transport. NATS Holdings Ltd (NATS, formerly National Air Traffic Services) is an air navigation service provider in the UK, responsible for providing air traffic services within UK and Eastern North Atlantic airspace. The Bill grants the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) the power to alter the licencing of ATC under which NATS Holdings Ltd operates. This change would bring this area under greater control of the CAA, an organisation that receives the majority of its funding from airlines. Currently the CAA has to abide by the decisions of the Secretary of State, Eurocontrol [7] and the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), but following Brexit this might not be the case.


2.12 The Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (ATOL) is a consumer protection scheme for package holidays that include a flight. It is managed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport. If an ATOL-licensed firm goes out of business, the CAA can refund protected consumers or, if they are already on holiday, ensure their safe repatriation home.

2.13 The changes that have happened to the way consumers now purchase holidays have given rise to a growing number of instances where holiday makers and business travellers have been left stranded in a foreign country without the protection afforded by the ATOL scheme. This is because the individual has not purchased a package holiday but instead booked flights separately to the accommodation over the internet with organisations outside the scope of the scheme. Whilst this practice may save the consumer a considerable sum, if the airline or the accommodation provider goes out of business or indeed is discovered to be fraudulent on arrival there is very little that can be done to bring them home.

2.14 In the International Air Transport Association (IATA) agreement of 25 November 2014 airlines entered a voluntary agreement on behalf of its members flying to, from and within Europe, that they will cover the repatriation of passengers unable to return home due to an airline ceasing operations as a result of financial failure. This agreement does not extend to the rest of the world, however. Consequently, Unite members on business or leisure flights outside Europe have no protection if they did not book the elements of their holiday as a package holiday. These changes may go some way to providing such a repatriation service.

2.15 None the less, for the crews of IATA member airlines providing this service within Europe, it can require an airline to call in crew members that would otherwise be on a rest day or on call to crew the flight and for the airline to bear the cost of flying from that destination. If the ATOL coverage was extended then this cost would not hit the airline’s bottom line and potentially make the difference between that airline surviving or failing itself.

Road Vehicle Testing

2.16 Unite’s concern is that standards are maintained and do not drop by allowing any owner of road worthiness checking facilities to offer their services to the market.

Misuse of Lasers

2.17 The misuse of lasers is becoming an increasingly worrying issue. Whilst the legal limit for lasers in Europe is 5mW, there are YouTube videos [8] that show how to convert a legal 5mW laser into 100mW. Such a laser is very capable of turning the windshield of an aircraft instantly opaquely green and, worse, the pilot is temporarily blinded, as if a camera had been strobed too close to their face, and their eyes are left burning. The CAA reported that in 2016, there were 1,258 pilot reports of laser illuminations within the UK., and an additional 274 reports of incidents that occurred outside the UK [9] . Whilst this is down from the 2011 high of 2,278 incidents reported to the CAA, these attacks have spread to include attacks on airport control towers and against other vehicle types. While there has not yet been a reported incident where an accident has occurred as a result such an attack, it is still a serious cause for concern [10] .

Courses offered as an alternative to driving fixed penalty notices

2.18 Most police authorities now offer awareness courses as an alternative to points on a licence for certain traffic offences. The most popular courses are for drivers who have been caught speeding, but there are also workshops for drivers jumping red traffic lights, not wearing seatbelts and for more serious offences which come under the umbrella of ‘driving without due care and attention’ which can sometimes lead to a place on a ‘driver improvement scheme’. The idea behind them is to help drivers challenge and change their own attitudes, to make them more aware of their own responsibility for their actions and to develop a personal safety strategy. Unite is supportive of courses being offered as an alternative to driving fixed penalty notices, assuming that costs and time are appropriate to the driving offence.

3 Summary

Automated vehicles (AV)

3.1 There are numerous issues that may arise with the transition to automated vehicles which Unite is very concerned about, not least health and safety and the potential impact on jobs, but in respect of this Bill Unite is particularly concerned with who is monitoring the use and operation of these vehicles and issues arising from the insurance of the vehicle and who is liable.

Electric vehicle infrastructure

3.2 Unite is concerned that the roll out of charging points will be a major undertaking which should include the upgrading of the generation and transmission capacity. Unite would also like to see a ‘just transition’ from manufacturing diesel and petrol engines to electrically powered engines and their power units.

Air traffic control regulations (NATs)

3.3 Whilst the transfer of additional powers to the CAA may appear to be a good idea according to the Bill, Unite has concerns about how this will fit into the ongoing uncertainty that will continue to develop following Brexit.


3.4 The extension of ATOL coverage may well be a welcome bonus to consumers but Unite is concerned about who eventually picks up the cost of changes.

Road vehicle testing

3.5 Unite’s concern is that standards are maintained and do not drop by allowing any owner of road worthiness checking facilities to offer their services to the market.

Misuse of lasers

3.6 Whilst incidents of lasers being used to blind pilots often on approach to an airport are on the decline, the spread of this abuse of laser pointers and the spread of attacks to other modes of transport is of great concern to Unite. Any reasonable measure to police these cases and bring perpetrators to justice should be investigated.

Courses offered as an alternative to driving fixed penalty notices

3.7 Unites is supportive of courses being offered as an alternative to driving fixed penalty notices assuming the costs and time are appropriate to the driving offence.

March 2017



[3] Meeting the Climate Challenge, Unite the Union, URL

[4] Electric vehicle charging infrastructure, European Alternative Fuels Observatory, 2016 URL

[5] Power to the EV: Norway spearheads Europe's electric vehicle surge, URL

[6] Norway’s electric vehicle revolution: Lessons for British Columbia , Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions URL

[7] EUROCONTROL is an intergovernmental organisation with 41 Member and 2 Comprehensive Agreement States. They are committed to building, together with their partners, a Single European Sky

[8] You Tube video explaining how simple it is to turn a 5mW laser into a 100mW laser URL

[9] CAA reported levels of laser attacks from 2009 to 2016 URL

[10] Aviation Week article on the growing problem of laser misuse in the United States URL


Prepared 16th March 2017