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The Sensor: Legal Insights into Autonomous Vehicles

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Autonomous vehicle laws in Canada: Provincial & territorial regulatory review

In this article, we build on our 2021 Cross-Canada AV legislative update to provide an updated snapshot of the current autonomous vehicles regulatory and legislative framework in Canada.

Automated vehicles in Canada: Scope of current regulations

In Canada, AV technology and testing is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial or territorial governments. Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for regulating individual drivers and vehicle operation in their respective jurisdictions, whereas the federal government (through Transport Canada) creates safety regulations for vehicles that are sold within, or imported to Canada.

Transport Canada has established guidelines that outline the processes required to establish safe automotive vehicle testing and trials on Canadian roads. These guidelines operate in conjunction with provincial laws and regulations for each jurisdiction. Both levels of government must be consistent and methodical in balancing innovation, adoption and public safety amidst the explosive growth of the AV sector that is pushing for higher levels of automation.1

British Columbia

The Motor Vehicles Act regulates the use of motor vehicles within British Columbia, but does not reference how AVs are governed or regulated by the Act. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) has provided some guidance regarding AV operation in the province, stating that AVs do not qualify for insurance as BC laws do not permit driverless vehicles.

Alberta

The Traffic Safety Act governs the regulation of motor vehicles within Alberta, but does not explicitly state how AVs are governed or regulated by the Act. Alberta is seeing an economic shift towards a stronger renewable fuel economy and it is anticipated that the province will adopt regulations addressing the use of AVs. While Alberta does not currently address the operation of AVs directly via legislation, the province continues to pilot numerous innovative programs, including pilot programs involving long-haul trucks, an industry that is poised to take advantage of AV technology.

In March 2022, the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) completed a trial on truck platooning, between Edmonton and Calgary. Truck platooning relies on semi-autonomous controls between two vehicles. The lead platoon truck driver is responsible for accelerating and braking, while the vehicle platooning behind it relies on connectivity technology and automated driving support systems to follow the lead platoon in transit. Backed by $2.3 million in funding from Transport Canada, two Peterbilt 579 tractor-trailers completed 21 trips between the two cities using this AV based technology.

Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Traffic Safety Amendment Act, 2020 was enacted to govern the regulation of AVs in Saskatchewan. Provisions related to the use of AVs are not yet in force, however c 36 of the Act provides contemporary definitions that detail the application process for permits and rules of the road, regarding automated and connected vehicles. Once in force, these amendments will provide Saskatchewan’s provincial administrator the authority to issue vehicle permits for the operation of AVs or connected vehicles (with each permit defining relevant operational terms and conditions).

Manitoba

The Vehicle Technology Testing Act governs the regulation of AVs within Manitoba and allows the Minister to issue a “technology testing permit”, thereby allowing a “test vehicle” to be driven with or without an automatic driving system engaged.

Notably, for AV testing purposes, the legislation carves out an exemption that allows the operation of AVs where, in the absence of a technology testing permit, the operation of the vehicle would otherwise breach highway law requirements found in various acts and regulations. Specifically, with the issuance of a technology testing permit, mandatory insurance that is issued by Manitoba Public Insurance is not required for drivers of a test vehicle, once they have satisfied the requirements to receive a technology testing permit within the province. However, where a driver of a test vehicle is responsible for an accident, Manitoba Public Insurance may recover the costs of property damage and personal injury against the holder of the permit.

Ontario

The Highway Traffic Act governs the regulation of AVs within Ontario, informed by guidance from the Ministry of Transportation (Ontario) under the Automated Vehicle Pilot Program (Ontario Regulation 306/15: Pilot Project – Automated Vehicles). Within Ontario’s current regime, the public can drive a SAE level 3 vehicle that is commercially available in Canada (for example, for sale and purchase). Level 4 and level 5 vehicles are permitted for operation, only for authorized applicants and for testing purposes. The Automated Vehicle Pilot Program specifies that the applicant must demonstrate or provide the following:

  • A declaration that the technology is safe and effective based on previous testing and may be asked for proof;
  • Accept full liability;
  • Inform the Ministry of Transportation (Ontario) of the environment and limits the automated vehicle is designed to work in (i.e., operational design parameters);
  • Individual driver ability to monitor and control the vehicle, if required to; and
  • Individual driver ability to bring the automated vehicle to a safe stop if necessary and explain how a safe stop will be done.

Applicants who receive authorization to test AVs (levels 4 and 5) have additional obligations under the regulations, including reporting and record retention requirements.

Québec

The Québec Highway Safety Code governs the regulation of AVs within Québec, with joint guidance from Le ministère des Transports (du Québec) and Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) under the Autonomous Buses and Minibuses Pilot Projects.

Currently, Québec allows AV driving to the general public at SAE level 3 for vehicles that are authorized for sale and purchase in Canada. Québec has specific Pilot Projects in place that allow for AV testing for SAE level 4 and 5 vehicles for permitted stakeholders (i.e., a manufacturer, distributer or operator as provided in the Health Safety Code) who receive authorization to test the AVs. This authorization must be granted jointly from a committee made up of Le ministère des Transports (du Québec) and SAAQ members. The Minister of Transportation then sets the rules and conditions for the implementation of any pilot project and authorizes any person or body to use a vehicle in compliance with the standards and rules they prescribe.

Two key pilot projects were deployed under the Québec pilot regulatory framework (in Candiac and Montréal) including what was hailed as Canada’s first self-driving electric shuttle. We previously provided summary highlights of these two pilots in our article, "Driverless vehicles: Two years of autonomy on Québec roads".

Nova Scotia

The Traffic Safety Act will govern the regulation of AVs in Nova Scotia upon royal proclamation. While provisions related to the use of AVs are not yet in force, the Traffic Safety Act will authorize the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (the Minister) to regulate AVs. Once in force, these amendments grant the Minister the authority to impose insurance requirements for the operation of AVs.

New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador

Beyond more traditional legislation related to road use and insurance, these respective provinces have not yet developed a regulatory framework to specifically address testing and deployment of AVs. It is likely that these East Coast provinces will enact legislation to regulate testing and use of AVs as they become more commonplace.

In lieu of current vehicle legislation, New Brunswick is one of six named provinces that is a part of the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) $2.4 million investment in 500 Level 2 charges that will be installed in 68 Indigo Park Canada locations, across the country. NRCan has a Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program that aims to help the Government of Canada reach its mandatory target for all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks to become zero-emission by 2035. Indigo Park Canada is matching NRCan’s investment of $2.4 million, to bring the total project cost to $4.8 million in funding for this project.

Additionally, Prince Edward Island is one of five provinces that is a part of Electrify Canada’s network for expansion that will see the installation of DC fast charging stations for electrical vehicles. Electrify Canada, being a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group, has already installed stations in Québec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The company aims to be able to provide electrical charging station coverage from coast to coast. 

Newfoundland and Labrador has not yet implemented any formal legislation regarding AVs.

Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut

Canada’s territories currently do not have a regulatory framework in place to address AV use on their respective roads. As discussed in last year’s update, the unique and challenging driving conditions in Canada’s territories offer an ideal testing platform for AV manufacturers to obtain valuable data on AV effectiveness in cold weather environments.

The Yukon government has recently initiated a series of decisions that will see increased research and development of electrical vehicle infrastructure, related to transportation. The Yukon government’s Our Clean Future strategy specifically targets a reduction in transportation based greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, coupled with electrical grid upgrade announcements, the North West Territories continue to be a valuable training environment for electrical vehicles, with a government plan to build out a charging corridor that would bring up to 22 chargers at 100-kilometer intervals along two of the territory’s major highways.

Nunavut has faced many barriers with respect to its existing infrastructure, due to the inability to produce enough electricity to power electric vehicle charging stations from local power plants that currently operate on fossil fuels. Nunavut currently has no electrical vehicle chargers or incentive programs that are being developed.

Future outlook and issues: Insurance liability and coverage

Currently, Canadian provinces handle the insurance liability and coverage of AVs under each province’s respective laws. Broadly speaking, these laws favour a finding of individual driver liability in automobile accidents, rather than finding liability in an automobile manufacturer or software developer (as is the case in most other motor vehicle incidents).

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) published a report titled “Auto Insurance for Automated Vehicles: Preparing for the Future of Mobility” in anticipation of future insurance regulation in the AV sector. IBC’s paper summarizes the following three main recommendations to prepare Canadians for insurance policies that specifically address AV operation and liability:

  1. Establish a single insurance policy covering driver negligence and the automated technology to facilitate liability claims;
  2. Establish a legislated data-sharing arrangement with vehicle manufacturers and vehicle owners and/or insurers to help determine the cause of a collision; and
  3. Update the federal vehicle safety standards with technology and cyber security standards.

The most significant change proposed is recommendation number one. This recommendation would require the AV insurer to compensate injured people, regardless of whether the human operator or autonomous technology was in control. This system of insurance coverage, utilizing a single insurance policy, would ensure that any person injured as a result of an AV collision would receive immediate compensation and leave product liability matters to the technology providers.

Conclusion

In 2023, we expect regulators will continue to work to modernize the respective federal, provincial, and municipal regulatory frameworks to assist with the safe adoption of autonomous vehicles and mobility solutions in Canada.

BLG’s Autonomous Vehicles Group

With broad industry experience and particular expertise in regulatory frameworks to assist with the adoption of autonomous vehicles, BLG’s Autonomous Vehicles Group is here to help clients navigate the associated opportunities and challenges. For more information on AVs or anything discussed in this article, please reach out to one of the key contacts below.


1 Canada adheres to six levels of vehicle automation (0 to 5), which reference the Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE) standards for levels of driving automation in autonomous vehicles. Level zero represents no automation and level five represents full automation, self-driving vehicles.

Key Contacts

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