With COVID-19 understandably being many people's focus for much of the past year, significant changes to the driving laws of Scotland and the rest of the UK may have gone by unnoticed by some. Here we look at some of the changes coming down the track in 2021 and beyond.
Following the end of the transition period in 2020, one of the key areas of change will be how driving in Europe is affected by Brexit. During negotiations there was some concern that international driving permits would be required for all UK drivers. However, the final position is that most UK drivers will be able to drive on the continent with their normal licences. The exceptions are those without photocard licences or those with licences issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man.
A new requirement is the need for drivers to obtain a green card from their insurance provider to prove that they have a valid policy in place. Except in Ireland, a GB sticker will also be required to be placed at the rear of the car if the car's number plate doesn't include a GB identifier or UK flag.
If the car being taken to the EU is hired or leased, a VE103 form is required to prove that it can be taken from the UK. If the trip is less than 12 months, drivers will need to take their V5C with them. A V5C logbook is a paper document issued by the DVLA which records the Registered Keeper of the vehicle
A loophole in the law that didn't prohibit drivers from taking photos or videos while driving has been closed. It is now illegal to hold a phone or sat-nav while driving a vehicle or riding a motorcycle. Previously only "interactive communication" was prohibited, technically allowing drivers to take photos, scroll through playlists or social media while driving. The new position is that any use of a handheld phone is prohibited.
The only time drivers are permitted to use their mobile phones while behind the wheel, is if the car is safely parked and not running, or if making an emergency call.
A ban on pavement parking was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2019 through the Transport (Scotland) Act. Implementation of the ban was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Scottish Councils are yet to begin the necessary preparations, including street surveys and the erection of signs and so enforcement of the ban seems unlikely in 2021.
In addition to the ban on pavement parking, the Transport (Scotland) Act has wider aims to improve transport and quality of life in Scotland. The Act gives Scottish Councils the power to create low-emission zones (LEZs) and provides support to improve local bus services. LEZs to improve air quality are set to be introduced across Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen between February 2022 and May 2022.
Automatic Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS)
The UK Government launched a consultation in August 2020 on technology which allows an automated system to take over control of a vehicle at low speeds. This included looking at whether the technology could run safely at speeds of up to 70mph so as to operate on UK motorways. The outcomes from the consultation are awaited.
There is suggestion that ALKS will make driving safer in the UK, reducing the room for human error. However, drivers will need to be ready to take back control from the automated system at any point. A key question for the implementation is who will be responsible for safety when the system is activated – the driver or the technology provider? These liability questions may form part of future litigated proceedings.
Another technological change is the introduction of Intelligent Speed Assistant System (ISA) which alert drivers if they are going too fast. ISAs are due to be mandatory in all new cars from 2022.
The ISA uses GPS or video to detect speed signs and alerts drivers of the speed limit. If the driver fails to reduce their speed, then the car reduces it for them. This is done through a reduction in power to the engine, rather than through the braking system. The system can be overridden in some circumstances, for example to allow overtaking. However, the system will sound warnings and display a visual alert until the correct speed is adopted. It is expected that ISAs may result in lower insurance premiums for cars with the systems installed.
The long awaited whiplash reforms are due to be implemented in England & Wales on 30 May 2021. Following an increase in road traffic accident (RTA) claims despite fewer accidents and improved road safety, the English & Welsh reforms seek to dis-incentivise minor, exaggerated and fraudulent soft-tissue injury claims arising from RTAs.
These will introduce a fixed tariff for whiplash claims and ban the settlement of claims without medical assessment. The reforms will also raise the Small Claims Track limit for RTAs from £1,000 to £5,000 meaning that claimants cannot recover their legal fees for making a successful personal injury claim below £5,000.
Whether the reforms in England & Wales will lead to an increase in claims north of the border as claims management companies focus more energy and resource in the Scottish market remains to be seen. Similar reforms may be implemented in Scotland in due course. We will be watching the results of the reforms with interest.