On 26 January 2022, the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission published a joint report recommending new laws to regulate automated/autonomous vehicles (AVs) in Great Britain. The Joint Report makes proposals to enhance the regulatory environment for AVs that received its first definition in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (UK AV Act), an Act of Parliament, with the relevant sections applying to England, Wales, and Scotland from 21 April 2021.

The race is well underway between global tech giants and automobile manufacturers to succeed in bringing fully autonomous AVs to market. This prospect not only offers economic benefits but also improvements in safety: it has been estimated by the European Commission that human error causes more than 90% of road user accidents.

In light of statistics published by Isle of Man Public Health in 2019 indicating that a road user is twice as likely to be killed or seriously injured on the Isle of Man’s roads than they are in England, the regulatory strides taken in the UK AV Act and in the proposals of the Joint Report may prove to be a beneficial starting point for Tynwald and the Isle of Man Government to map the Island’s regulatory landscape for AVs.

The Legality of AVs on Isle of Man Roads

On 26 January 2016, the then Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, Allan Bell, stated that the Island’s legislative and regulatory framework did not act as a barrier to the testing of AVs on the Island’s roads. This effectively mirrored the approach the UK Government had taken in its 2015 paper, The Pathway to Driverless Cars.

In 2017, the Isle of Man followed the UK in introducing a Code of Practice that governs the testing of AVs on Isle of Man roads. The Code of Practice promised the implementation of new legislation to “further facilitate the development and use of autonomous vehicle technologies”. Despite the indications of the former Chief Minister and the 2017 Code of Practice, the Isle of Man has not advanced the regulatory environment to facilitate the adoption of AVs and, otherwise than the trialling/testing of AVs, there remains ambiguity and uncertainty as to what can publicly and commercially take place on Isle of Man roads.

The law of the Isle of Man as it currently stands could be interpreted to preclude the use of AVs. For instance, Regulation 61 of the Road Vehicles (Maintenance and Use) Regulations 2012 requires that a person driving must be in a position to have proper control of a vehicle. Circumstances where a person is in the driving seat of an AV but does not have their hands on the wheel, and/or their attention is otherwise than on driving, could be interpreted against them as failing to have proper control. Similarly, offences such as dangerous or careless driving under the Road Traffic Act 1985 could be interpreted as applying to a person sitting in the driving seat of an AV, although they may not be literally driving the vehicle.

Such ambiguity in the law of the Isle of Man could deter potential private or commercial users of AVs in adopting technologies that may well reduce the incidences of accidents on Isle of Man roads.

The Regulatory Position in England, Wales, and Scotland

The UK AV Act created a strict liability for insurers of AVs that would capture circumstances when the driver was not in immediate control of an AV (when in fully autonomous mode). The insurer’s strict liability would avoid the victim of a crash having to pursue a complex product liability claim against the manufacture of the AV. Section 1 provides that the UK Government must publish a list of AVs that may lawfully be used when driving themselves in England, Wales and Scotland, and to which the relevant provisions of the UK AV Act apply. Under section 2 of the UK AV Act, in circumstances when an accident is caused by an insured AV, the insurer will be liable for any resulting damage. The insurer may then bring a secondary claim against those responsible for the incident (such as against the AV manufacturer).

With the publication of the Joint Report, the regulatory regime in Great Britain is proposed to be advanced further with a dedicated ‘Automated Vehicles Act’. The Joint Report proposed that this should include clear legal distinctions between driver assistance technology and fully driverless AVs, and that a person in the driving seat of AV that commits a road traffic offence whilst in full driverless mode should be immune from prosecution.

The future of AVs on Isle of Man roads

The Isle of Man has the benefit of following the lead taken in Great Britain on AV regulation. However, until such proposals have been published by the Isle of Man Government, there will be legal uncertainty as to how and when AVs will be lawfully driven in the Isle of Man.

If you have any questions on the issues raised in this article, please contact Andrew Langan-Newton.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.