Amendment 1

Part of Automated Vehicles Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 6 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:00, 6 February 2024

My Lords, we begin once again with the question of safety. I am grateful to colleagues across the House for their constructive engagement on this issue. The Government’s position remains that the safety standard is best articulated in statutory guidance, with the benefit of consultation. This is the most appropriate way of assessing the public’s attitude to risk, which in turn is the only objective answer to the question of “How safe is safe enough?”. This rationale was set out by the law commissions and is not one from which we intend to deviate.

Nevertheless, I have reflected on our discussions in recent weeks and recognise the strength of feeling on this subject. This is a novel area, with an uncertain future. It is therefore reasonable that Parliament should expect to set the parameters within which the safety standard will be defined. To that end, I have tabled government Amendments 3 and 7. This will establish the “careful and competent driver” standard as the minimum level of road safety that the statement of safety principles should look to achieve—in effect, cementing our safety ambition into law. It will also guarantee a substantive debate in Parliament on the first iteration of those principles.

As I have said previously, the “careful and competent” standard is considerably higher than that of the average driver. This means the objective of a significant improvement in road safety is now baked in from the beginning. Further, I recognise the desire to clarify that this improvement in safety applies to all road users. I can therefore confirm that the statement of safety principles will include an explicit principle on equality and fairness. This could include, for example, a declaration that overall safety benefits should not come at the expense of any particular group of road users. Further detail could then specify that training datasets must be representative of different sectors of society. The exact framing will of course be shaped by consultation.

More broadly, I reiterate the point I made in Committee that references in the Bill to “road safety” do indeed already apply to all road users. This is also the case in existing road safety legislation, where offences such as dangerous driving are concerned with the safety of all road users; this includes, but is not limited to, pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists and disabled people.

For these reasons, I believe the intent of Amendment 4 is now provided for. Indeed, our proposed Amendment 3 achieves this without the ambiguity created by relative terms such as “significantly better”.

Regarding Amendment 2, Clause 1(3) already establishes that safety is to be assessed in relation to location and circumstances. The safety considerations and appropriate assessment methodologies will vary depending on the location, circumstances, use case and road users in question. It is more appropriate that these details be defined in approval and authorisation requirements, rather than the statement of safety principles.

The first part of Amendment 1 would effectively apply a minimum safety standard equivalent to that of a novice human driver who has just passed their test. The practical limitations of human driving tests constrain the monitoring and assessment of each new driver’s performance to a short time window. These limitations do not apply to self-driving vehicles. We can assess performance in multitudes of situations, including rare ones, and across thousands of miles of driving. We therefore believe safety is best assessed by a combination of real-world, track and virtual testing.

More pertinently, the amendment looks to redefine the phrase “safely and legally” in purely statistical terms. Doing so would contradict the law commissions’ basic principle that these concepts are ultimately defined by public acceptance and public confidence. As I said at the outset, we do not believe it wise to deviate from this principle. I hope that, with the additional assurances of government Amendments 3 and 7, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will agree with me on that point.

Before I conclude, I will briefly address the security point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. Cyber and national security sit at the very heart of our plans to bring self-driving vehicles to UK roads. Vehicles with automatic systems will be subject to detailed technical cybersecurity assessment as part of the well-established type approval process. This will include assessment to ensure vehicles continue to be cyber resilient throughout their lifetime. Before a company can be authorised as a self-driving entity, it must meet requirements relating to good repute, which will include consideration for cybersecurity. We will, of course, be working with the police and the security services to enable this.