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Great Britain: Technology Bill Introduced to Regulate Driverless Cars, Increase Penalties for Misuse of Lasers

(Mar. 21, 2017) The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2017 was recently introduced in the British Parliament. The aim of the bill is to modernize transportation policies and laws in the United Kingdom.  The bill addresses the misuse of lasers, the liability of insurers of automated vehicles, the infrastructure to support electric vehicles, and air traffic control regulations.  The bill will also open up the market for road-vehicle testing, which the vehicle owner is responsible for having an authorized tester perform annually, and implement a cap on the cost of these services.  (Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2017, Bill No. 143, United Kingdom Parliament website.)

Penalties for Misuse of Lasers

One of the more publicized parts of the bill is the increase in the penalties for the offense of shining a laser at the operator of any mode of transportation. The current law only applies to lasers being pointed at aircraft pilots; there were 1,258 reported incidents in Great Britain of lasers being directed into the cockpits of planes during 2016.  The current offense requires the police to prove that the alleged culprit endangered an aircraft, which has been difficult for the police to do.  The new law will create a strict liability offense, meaning that police only have to prove that the alleged offender directed or shone a laser beam at a vehicle in a manner that dazzled or distracted the person in control of the vehicle.  The bill will also extend the offense to cover all types of vehicles and vessels, is broadly defined in the Bill as “any thing used for travel by land, water or air.”  (Id. section 22(8); Laser Incidents Reported to the UK CAA 2016, Civil Aviation Authority website (last visited Mar. 1, 2016).)

Automated Vehicle Insurance

To keep the law up to date with technological developments, part 1 of the bill extends compulsory motor insurance to cover automated vehicles when they are operated in automated mode.  This means that the victims of an accident that is caused by a vehicle in automated mode are covered by the compulsory insurance, which will obligate the insurer to pay compensation to the victim of the accident, as well as to cover the driver who activated the automation.  The insurer may then recover costs from the liable party under the existing common law and product law provisions.  Exemptions to this rule would apply if the driver using the automated system made any changes to the system or failed to install any required updates.  Whether a car is considered to fall within the provisions of this bill will be determined by the Department of Transportation.  (Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2017, supra; Explanatory Notes, Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, ¶ 14, United Kingdom Parliament website (last visited Feb. 28, 2017); New Measures Set Out Autonomous Vehicle Insurance and Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (Feb. 22, 2017), GOV.UK.)

Other Measures

To help the government achieve the target of zero emission vehicles by 2050, the bill requires gas stations and large retailers to provide electric power charging points that meet certain specifications to ensure compatibility and protection from hackers and to publish the details of the location, prices, and hours.  (Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2017, Part 2.)

The bill will also update the licensing framework for air traffic control regulations to take into account the demand on the UK’s airports, increase resilience and aim to improve safety, and extend insolvency protection for package vacations to cover the newer ways that these vacations are purchased. (Id. Part 3.)