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Freshfields Sustainability

| 4 minutes read
Reposted from Freshfields Risk & Compliance

The road ahead for vehicle regulation in Great Britain: the Department for Transport’s vision for GB type approval 

The Department for Transport (DfT) has published a policy paper outlining its “vision for GB type approval”, which seeks to “rethink vehicle regulation” in Great Britain post-Brexit. The paper highlights that, while Brexit provides some flexibility to the UK in terms of regulating for type approval and more generally, this does not mean that the present EU-derived regimes that work well should necessarily be “cast aside”. 

We review key aspects of the policy paper below, which provide some insight into future plans for vehicle regulation in Great Britain, however the policy is necessarily high-level and aspirational and the critical detail will need to be developed via the consultations proposed by the DfT in the coming months. 

General principles governing long-term development of vehicle regulation 

The paper sets out three principles which the DfT envisages will underpin vehicle regulation in Great Britain:

1. Standardisation through the UNECE 

The DfT recognises that developing internationally-applicable regulations is the most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure vehicles meet necessary standards (for example in relation to safety and environmental credentials). Such standardisation is likely to be welcomed by the automotive industry. 

In this regard, the DfT highlights certain areas in which the UK could take a leading role in developing international UNECE regulations, including:

  • Automated vehicle (AV) technologies, with a focus on safe introduction of self-driving technology, further development of advanced driver assistance systems and cyber security and connectivity. 
  • Environmental protection, including particular focus on developing a global regulation for real driving emissions, developing whole life-cycle assessment of CO2 emissions and facilitating increased uptake of electric vehicles (EVs). 

In addition, the paper also notes the DfT will explore options to streamline the process for incorporating UNECE regulations (specifically, those the UK has voted for) into the GB type approval scheme, which came into force in January 2023. This may involve new legislative powers, however the policy paper does not go into specific detail on this point. 

2. A flexible approach to recognising foreign standards and testing 

Appreciating the global nature of the automotive sector, the policy paper states that the DfT wants to make it more straightforward for alternative vehicle standards from abroad to be recognised, where those standards can be shown to demonstrate technical equivalence and ensure comparable levels of safety and/or environmental performance, thereby avoiding additional administrative burden and duplicative vehicle testing where possible. 

The DfT states that, where international (i.e. UNECE) standards are not available, alternative standards from abroad in relation to low-risk subjects will be accepted. The DfT provides defrost/demist requirements as an example low-risk subject area. Once such low-risk subjects have been identified, testing to other standards which are deemed broadly equivalent to the UK standards would be allowed. The paper recognises that, in the first instance, requirements applicable in the EU would likely be allowed, particularly for subjects where the DfT can be confident that vehicle performance would not be compromised. Expansion to other regulatory jurisdictions is then only envisaged to take place after this initial expansion to allow equivalent EU standards. 

The paper makes clear that while the use of alternative technical requirements would be allowed, approvals themselves would continue to be issued and subject to approval by the UK Vehicle Certification Authority (VCA). 

3. Exploration of potential bespoke domestic requirements or processes

The policy paper further notes that, while there may be benefits in incorporating or accepting regulatory standards applicable abroad (as set out in principles 1 and 2, described above), domestic legislation may also be used to respond to particular issues that affect manufacturers and consumers in Great Britain. 

While the paper does not go into any detail on the precise areas of vehicle regulation in which a bespoke domestic approach may be warranted or beneficial, it highlights that this may be required in order to facilitate the introduction of new technologies to market. 

In that regard, the Automated Vehicles Act 2024 received Royal Assent at the end of May, and introduces the concept of requiring AVs to pass a safety test in order to be authorised (see our previous blogs on the Act here and here). Such safety test is yet to be specified in regulation, however this may be a key example of an area in which the government seeks to set standards that are applicable to Great Britain, before international standards to regulate the introduction of AVs have been set. On that, the policy paper notes that UK type approval regulations and construction and use regulations will be amended by the end of 2026 in order to accommodate AVs. 

Future vehicle emissions standards

The paper notes that the DfT is developing options for future emissions standards to apply to vehicles placed on the market in Great Britain. The DfT says it has been monitoring the development of the Euro 7 emissions regulation in the EU, which was formally adopted by the European Council in April this year, and which introduces for the first time limit values on brake and tyre wear emissions. Without providing any more concrete detail, the DfT says it will aim to lay legislation on this issue during 2025.  

Plans to enhance Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) enforcement powers

The policy paper also sets out plans to amend the UK’s Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 in 2025, in order to enhance the DVSA’s enforcement powers in relation to “emission-related tampering”. 

The paper envisages a policy proposal being put forward in late 2024 in order to empower the DVSA to oblige manufacturers to recall vehicles where necessary on environmental grounds, with new legislation expected to be introduced in 2025. 

In parallel, the DfT says it will examine existing legislation as regards operational processes around prosecution of manufacturers who have placed vehicles on the market where defeat devices are found to have been installed. 

Conclusion and next steps

While the DfT’s paper provides some useful indication as to its ambitions and the future direction of travel of vehicle regulation in Great Britain, there remain notable gaps in the detail. Of course, as there may well be a change of government in the UK following this Thursday’s general election, it is possible that the DfT will change tack in the coming months to reflect a new incoming government’s priorities, however vehicle regulation is not generally considered a key area of divergence between the main political parties and therefore a significant U-turn seems unlikely. The industry will want to pay close attention to any consultations published by the DfT later this year and beyond, which should provide an opportunity to share views on the best way in which to regulate vehicles on the road in Great Britain.