Safety must be the top priority if driverless buses are allowed on our roads, the Faculty of Advocates said today.

Faculty was responding to the second consultation paper on automated vehicles issued by the Scottish Law Commission and the Law Commission of England & Wales. The paper looks at issues surrounding Highly Automated Road Passenger Services (HARPS).

Its response supports plans for HARPS to be treated in a regulatory category of their own, rather than “shoehorned” into existing schemes, such as for private hire vehicles.

It also backs a single national system of operator licensing, rather than local regimes, commenting: “When considering licensing issues, the paramount consideration should be ensuring the safety of users and of the general public. The requirement for businesses to have an operator licence will be an effective way of ensuring safety through the attaching of conditions to that licence, such as maintenance of vehicles and the ability to provide the advertised service.” Northern Ireland, however, may need to harmonise with the Irish Republic rather than the rest of the UK.

Faculty adds: “The safety of HARPS has two aspects – technical safety, i.e. safety of the equipment involved, and practical safety, i.e. safety of the persons on board from other passengers. Operators might not be able to guarantee passenger safety in the same way that, say, having a human driver might be able to and this is perhaps something that should be considered when looking into operator licence requirements.

“Is it reasonable for the operator to have to ensure practical safety of passengers… should operator licences only be issued for HAPRS if there is a designated operator employee on board in a security capacity, or could safety requirements be met by the use of distant monitoring by means of remotely operated surveillance cameras?”

Faculty notes that on-board CCTV is now the norm on buses and trains, and argues that CCTV should be mandatory on HARPS vehicles, at least in the absence on board of a human steward or similar person charged with ensuring passenger safety.

It further observes that HARPS operators will be liable under civil law for breaches of common law or statutory duties, and it is important that there is accountability within corporate structures and that HARPS operators can easily be sued and are able to meet any remedy ordered under civil law. “The licensing regime should be constructed so that the public can be assured that this is the case.”

Other topics discussed (Faculty avoids issues of a policy or socio-economic nature) include the licensing of operators who lease or hire private cars on a “streaming” basis, and responsibility for privately owned passenger vehicles. 

Click here to view the full response.