The UK Government has reported overwhelming support for the creation a new independent body – the Road Safety Investigation Branch – “to learn lessons from road incidents, including those involving self-driving vehicles, and make recommendations for interventions and policy changes that could help reduce incidents and improve road safety for all road users.” The new body would have investigate powers to require disclosure of relevant information for private companies, but there is no discussion at this stage of safeguards for IP.
“Deepening our understanding of road traffic collisions and how best to address them” is the UK Government’s response to a public consultation that ran from October to December 2021. 93% of respondents supported the creation of an independent body to investigate collisions and make recommendations for change. The proposed body will review general safety, not just collisions per se, and will set criteria for selecting investigations according to “themes and types of incidents”. The scope will include new technology such as self-driving vehicles; indeed, the “emergence of new technologies” was a recurring theme in the public responses.
The new body would have investigative powers to require disclosure, such as “recorded, electronic, photographic and video data and investigatory reports”, from public and private entities. These powers are likely to be supported by the creation of new offences, such as “offences of providing inaccurate or misleading information, obstructing an inspector during their conduct of an investigation, interference with or failure to preserve evidence relevant to an investigation, and disclosing protected evidence or information.”
The aims of the body are clearly important and valuable – it aims to reduce deaths and serious injuries and is expected to have “an indirect positive effect on the environment by reducing congestion and emissions”.
A related “De Minimis Assessment (DMA)” evaluates the economic impacts of the policy. The costs are low enough that the policy does not require to be independently verified with the Regulatory Policy Committee. However, the assessment of the impact may understate the potential effect on UK companies developing autonomous vehicle technology.
First, the assessment suggests that companies could comply with disclosure requirements through a small number of hours by “admin” staff paid around £18 an hour. It finds that the compliance cost is likely to be around £1,018 per investigation. This seems implausible in the case of self-driving technology, where data scientists, engineers and others might need to be involved and where achieving a meaningful degree of transparency and explainability is an ongoing area of research.
Second, the assessment does not address the impacts (economic or otherwise) on the IP of such companies. Where data and AI are key assets of a company, IP is frequently protects as trade secrets, which might be compromised through disclosure, without safeguards, to a new investigatory body. Hopefully, suitable safeguards will be discussed in before the legislative framework for the body is finalised.
About the author(s)
Matt Hervey is Head of Artificial Intelligence (UK) at Gowling WLG (UK) and advises on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and IP across all sectors, including automotive, life sciences, finance and retail. Find out more about Matt Hervey on the Gowling WLG website. He is co-editor of The Law of Artificial Intelligence (Sweet & Maxwell).