The UK looks set to see several driving-related laws be updated in 2021 and beyond. Here is a quick guide to what businesses need to know.

Driving during lockdown

Hopefully, lockdown will be lifted soon. Also, hopefully, the rules and guidance will stay the same while it is in place. At present, guidance is that people who cannot work from home may drive to work. For completeness, they can also drive for other essential activities including providing care. As with anything COVID19-related, however, stay alert to the possibility of updates.

If businesses work across local authority boundaries, then they should double-check the definition of “essential” in both areas. Any business which operates across the England/Wales and England/Scotland borders should be particularly careful to make sure that they fully understand the rules on both sides of the border.

Health and safety

Health and safety itself is nothing new but COVID19 has added a new dimension to it. Even with the vaccine, the pandemic is likely to be influencing life well into 2021. This means that businesses will need to keep reviewing what it means for their health and safety policies and practices.

In particular, businesses might want to look at the issue of parking. With so many people working from home, previously safe parking areas might now be a target for criminals. Businesses should definitely check their own facilities to make sure that they are still safe. They may also want to update their guidance on how employees should choose parking locations.

Brexit

There are a number of Brexit-related rule-changes. There is also the distinct possibility of more to come, although they are most likely to be targeted at the haulage industry. The government’s website has up-to-date guidance for both regular drivers and hauliers.

It is, however, useful to keep in mind that International Driving Permits can be very helpful even if they are, technically, not mandatory. For example, in some countries, car-rental companies will ask to see one before they will hire out a vehicle. IDPs only cost £5.50 but, oddly, are still only available for in-person purchase at post offices.

Hauliers should pay close attention to the rules on customs clearance. The government could feasibly extend the Kent Access Permit scheme to other areas. They could also update the rules for getting permits, the enforcement area and/or the types of vehicles which need them.

A clampdown on mobile phone usage

Technically, this is still to be confirmed. It does, however, seem virtually guaranteed that the government will close a loophole in the existing law. At present, it is not actually illegal to use your phone if it is offline. 

It’s an open question why this exception was ever made in the first place. Firstly, doing anything with your phone takes your mind off the road. Secondly, it can lead to complications and hence difficulties actually enforcing the law. On that note, while updating the law will be welcome, in the real world, the effect will largely depend on how well the law is actually enforced.

Greener roads

Bath, Birmingham, Briston, London and Oxford are all committed to implementing, expanding and/or updating their emissions controls. These actions are being taken in the name of clean air. It is, however, a useful coincidence that they also have the potential to increase revenues for local councils. 

This reality means that it’s probably safe to assume more localities are going to follow suit. In fact, theoretically, there is nothing to stop local authorities from implementing low emissions zones outside of cities. In practice, LEZs tend to depend on technology which is usually only viable in and around cities.

Businesses should therefore think about what this could mean for their costs. In particular, they may want to think about whether or not it justifies a switch to electric/hybrid vehicles. Pure electric vehicles now come with so-called “green” number plates. In actual fact, they’re regular number plates with a green stripe on them.

Cars with these number plates are guaranteed to qualify as low emissions. They may qualify for other perks such as priority parking. This last point is, however, not guaranteed, especially given that most councils are extremely strapped for cash at present.

Smarter motorways

Highways England is planning to continue with the rollout of smart motorways. In theory, another 300 miles of motorway should be converted by the end of 2021. In practice, it’s a very open question as to whether or not this happens.

Smart motorways have proved hugely controversial. This is largely due to the excessive numbers of accidents, including fatalities, which have happened on them. Hopefully, these safety issues have now been addressed. If they continue, however, then the government may be forced to take action.

Driverless cars

The government has been taking a great interest in Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS). It is said to be interested in implementing the technology by the end of this year. Technically, this could mean that the UK could be the first country in the world to use fully-autonomous vehicles.  In practice, however, even the most ardent fans of the idea have to recognize the safety issues.

In blunt terms, humans can be held accountable for their actions in a way machines cannot. In theory, the technology providers could be held responsible for the actions of their vehicles. In practice, it’s hard to see how this would actually work, especially if the technology provider was based outside of the UK.

The government believes that ALKS could improve safety for both vehicle drivers and road users in general. Essentially, it believes that ALKS could take over control of a vehicle in situations where human drivers have a tendency to lose concentration. A typical example of this would be motorway tailbacks where traffic is moving very slowly.

In other words, it’s probably going to be quite some time, if ever, before the UK has fully-autonomous cars zipping along the roads. It is, however, very possible that it will be the first country in the world to make extensive use of ALKS technology. Businesses should “watch this space” to see what this could mean for them.

About the Author
Andrea Easton is the Head of Finance and Operations of Walker Movements, who are specialists in quality second-hand, used trucks and trailers and are global leaders in the trucking industry. Walker Movements have a true passion for the industry and make it their mission to answer any question customers can throw at them.