There is no sign of a promised process for approving advanced trials of autonomous vehicles, nearly three years after ministers pledged to ‘make world-leading changes to the regulatory framework’.
Ministers also announced twice last year that ‘a process is being developed to support advanced trials of automated vehicles’.
However, the Department for Transport (DfT) has declined to respond directly to an enquiry from Transport Network as to current progress in developing the process.
The 2017 Autumn Budget stated: ‘The government wants to see fully self-driving cars, without a human operator, on UK roads by 2021. The government will therefore make world-leading changes to the regulatory framework, such as setting out how driverless cars can be tested without a human safety operator.’
In February 2019, the DfT announced that ‘a process is being developed to support advanced trials of automated vehicles’.
An updated code of practice acknowledged that ‘it is already possible to conduct trials without a human safety driver or operator in the vehicle, however there must be a safety driver or operator who can use a remote-control function to be able to exercise proper control of the vehicles if necessary’.
It added: ‘The Government is aware of the growing desire to conduct more advanced trials on public roads…the Department’s motoring agencies will develop and operate a process to support advanced trials on public roads.’
Last September, the DfT announced that it was producing a ‘pioneering new safety regime for self-driving vehicles’. The system, known as CAVPASS would be developed using ‘world-leading expertise in vehicle safety and cyber security within government, industry and academia’.
‘The new safety assurance system will first focus on enabling the advanced trialling of self-driving vehicles,’ officials said.
The UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap, produced by Zenzic in September 2019, identifies ‘advanced trials approvals process in place’ as a ‘major milestone’ to be achieved during 2020, with approvals themselves next year.
Transport Network also approached Zenzic, which receives significant government funding to co-ordinate work on connected and autonomous vehicles within the UK and which is due to publish an updated roadmap this Autumn.
A spokesperson told Transport Network that Zenzic is ‘currently analysing data based on submissions made by developers’ and hopes to provide an update in ‘the coming weeks’.
Transport Network understands that developing the process is a combined effort, involving the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, Innovate UK, industry, Zenzic and BSI and with multiple strands.
The Law Commission is looking at legal issues, Zenzic is looking at the framework for trials, BSI is writing standards, and the EU is developing vehicle technology standards and test regulations.