First Report Contents

Instruments drawn to the special attention of the House

Draft Highway Code Amendment (Self-Driving Vehicles) 2022

Date laid: 25 April 2022

Parliamentary procedure: negative

New technology for self-driving cars is advancing rapidly and this change to the Highway Code is to make clear the responsibilities of the driver when using a car in that mode. Further, more comprehensive, legislation on the subject was announced in the Queen’s Speech, but interim measures have been necessary as the first self-driving vehicles are expected to reach the UK market later this year. We were again disappointed that the Explanatory Memorandum provided by the Department for Transport included little material on the safety aspects of this technology, so this report includes additional information that the Department supplied on request.

This instrument is drawn to the special attention of the House on the grounds that it is politically or legally important or gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.

Legislative background

1.This instrument brings into effect a new section in the Highway Code which sets out the responsibilities of a driver when using a self-driving vehicle. Unlike assistive functions, such as cruise control, where the driver is still in charge of the vehicle, these vehicles are capable of safely driving themselves and the driver does not need to monitor them. The new section makes clear that the driver may take their attention away from the road and may view content on the vehicle’s built-in screen, if available, but may not use a hand-held mobile phone or similar device. The driver must still be fit to drive and stay awake to take back control when prompted by the vehicle.

2.The new section uses the term ‘self-driving vehicle’ for any vehicle listed as an ‘automated vehicle’ by the Secretary of State for Transport under section 1 of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. None have yet been approved for use but the earliest models are expected to reach the UK later this year.

3.The first self-driving vehicles likely to be approved for use in Great Britain are those with automated lane keeping system technology (ALKS).1 ALKS technology is designed to operate at relatively low speeds on motorways, controlling the lateral and longitudinal movement (speed and direction) of the vehicle to keep it within its lane. Initial UN regulations limited the technology to cars and to speeds on motorways of up to 37 mph, however this is to be extended to other vehicle categories from June 2022.2

4.Further, more comprehensive legislation on the subject was announced in the Queen’s Speech, but interim measures have been necessary to keep up with the pace of development. The Department for Transport (DfT) informed us in supplementary material that:

“This follows a four-year, world-leading review of legislation by the Law Commissions, at the request of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.3 It is our intention that the primary legislation will be followed by secondary legislation and statutory guidance, which will set out a clear framework for the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles by 2025 to meet expected industry development and deployment timeframes. We anticipate two broad development routes for self-driving vehicles: vehicles that require a driver some of the time (as is the case for Automated Lane Keeping System) and may be privately owned; and vehicles that do not require a driver and may provide a public service. The safety framework will be developed to deal with both types of vehicles, and other potential future use cases as this innovative technology develops.”

Publication of the new section

5.We have previously raised concerns about long delays between amendments to the Highway Code taking effect and being published in hard copy. We are pleased to note that in the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) DfT says, as soon as the 40 days required by parliamentary procedure have expired, the online version of the Highway Code will be amended and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency will use its media channels to issue a press notice on the amendment. It also states that hard copies of The Highway Code are published on a six-monthly basis, with the next edition scheduled for the autumn, which will reflect this amendment. The delay is probably acceptable for this amendment because no self-driving cars are expected to be operational before then, but we remind the DfT that we expect changes to the Code and its re-publication schedule to be more closely coordinated than they have been recently.4


6.We were disappointed that the EM included little information on how the safety of these vehicles and their use will be assessed. In supplementary information, DfT informed us that:

“Both the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA, representing the motoring clubs) and the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) are active bodies at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) expert group under which the ALKS Regulation was developed. At a domestic level, ROSPA, the RAC Foundation, the AA, IAM RoadSmart and ABI/Thatcham responded5 to our consultations on ALKS.”

7.We asked, when the car spots a problem and hands back control to the driver who has been watching television, what amount of reaction time would be allowed for the driver to assess the situation and take avoiding action. DfT responded:

“Self-driving vehicles are only considered to be such if the driver does not need to monitor the driving environment and if they are given sufficient time to safely regain control when requested. This will be tested on a case-by-case basis at vehicle approval. Research, including simulation, was conducted to establish the length of time necessary for a safe hand-over for ALKS (with and without some secondary activities, like watching videos on the infotainment screen) and reviewed during international negotiations of the ALKS Regulation.”

8.We also asked what assessment of the effects on other traffic had been made of a vehicle doing a maximum of 37 mph on a motorway, and whether the vehicle would have any distinguishing features to alert other road users, such as a sticker. DfT said:

“ALKS are designed to be active in slow-moving traffic on motorway-type roads (i.e., traffic jams) but the vehicle itself will still be capable of higher speeds when a human driver is in control. If traffic begins flowing at higher speeds than 37mph, the system is expected to prompt the driver to regain control and normal motorway driving would resume. In the future, we expect ALKS technology to develop so that it can control vehicles on motorways at higher speeds–an international regulation is currently in development for this.

The ALKS Regulation does not currently include a requirement for a distinguishing feature, but the issue is under active discussion at the UNECE (United Nations Economic Committee for Europe) as a broader set of requirements for self-driving vehicles are being developed, and the question is also being considered at a national level within our programme to develop the detailed domestic requirements that will be implemented following the Transport Bill.”

9.The new Highway Code section mentions that the driver must operate the car “in line with the manufacturer’s instructions” so we enquired whether there will be any training provided by the seller or manufacturer and whether any additional test will need to be passed before the driver of such a car can take it on the road. DfT replied:

“The Government has established the AV-Drive group of experts, involving industry, regulators and road safety organisations. This group is considering what information and resources will be provided to drivers to ensure self-driving vehicles are used safely once introduced on our roads. The group is developing a resource pack that will be used to communicate messages on the safe use of self-driving technologies clearly and effectively with users. Government is also working in partnership with Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which is responsible for driver training, to update the official DVSA Guide to Driving. Although there are currently no additional tests that need to be passed before a driver can drive such a vehicle, government is considering what changes might need to be made to driver training and testing as the technology advances.”


10.It is clear that this is a rapidly changing situation and the legislation is “a work in progress”, but at every future stage the House should be provided with clear evidence about the safety of each iteration both for the driver of the individual vehicle and for other road users.

1 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, ‘Status of the 1958 Agreement (and of the annexed regulations)’: [accessed 17 May 2022].

2 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, ‘UN regulation on Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) extended to trucks, buses and coaches’: [accessed 17 May 2022].

33 Law Commission, ‘Automated Vehicles’: [accessed 17 May 2022].

4 SLSC, 8th Report (Session 2019–21, HL Paper 40) and 12th Report (Session 2019–21, HL Paper 130).

5 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Royal Automobile Club Foundation (the RAC’s research arm), the Automobile Association, the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Thatcham Research.

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