Electric vehicles (EVs) are alternative fuel cars designed, and introduced, in an effort to substantially reduce the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to road transport. Categorised as a type of ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV), EVs can range from plug-in hybrids, which combine a small battery, internal combustion engine and electric motor, to all-electric vehicles, which are powered solely by mains electricity.

In recent years, both the Scottish and UK Governments have increased their focus on EVs, stating their intention to promote air quality initiatives, the uptake of fuel-efficient motoring and, ultimately, build upon the UK’s charging infrastructure.

September 2017: Scottish government announces intention to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032, with Nicola Sturgeon pledging to expand the number of electric charging points in rural, urban and domestic settings, and convert the A9 into Scotland’s first fully electric-enabled highway.
27 November 2017: UK government publishes Industrial Strategy and vows to “support electric vehicles through £400m charging infrastructure investment and an extra £100m to extend the plug-in car grant”;
February 2018: UK government makes a further £30 million investment in ‘Vehicle 2 Grid’, a technology enabling consumers to feed the energy stored in their electric vehicles back into the national grid at times of peak demand.
6 July 2018: HMRC releases a policy paper designed to encourage employers to provide charging facilities for ‘plug-in’ vehicles at or near the workplace by proposing the removal of Income Tax and National Insurance liability for workplace charging.
9 July 2018: UK Department for Transport publishes ‘Road to Zero Strategy’, outlining their plan to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
19 July 2018: The Automated and Electric Vehicles Act receives Royal Assent

As indicated by the Government, the transition to EV technology will be market led and will throw up an array of new legal issues for sector participants,including EV installers, car manufacturers, local authorities, commercial and residential developers, electricity providers, supply chains and consumers.

Mass uptake of electric vehicles will see both EV installers and network operators negotiate lease arrangements with Scottish landowners, in order to regulate their rights of access in, through and across private land for the purposes of installing and maintaining charge points and securing a connection to the grid.Third party consents may also be required where, for example, title to the land is subject to a secured interest.

New electric licensing schemes could mean that corporate entities seeking to offer charging services to consumers will require to enter into contractual arrangements with existing electricity suppliers or, alternatively, take steps to become licensed providers themselves.

The 2018 Act has also extended the traditional motor insurance settlement framework to recognise claims for damages caused by the fault of an automated vehicle itself, as opposed to its driver. It follows that, where an accident is caused by a vehicle in self-drive mode, insurers will find themselves liable for damages stemming from that accident, with their only prospect of recovery being a claim against the vehicle manufacturer or other third party. 

The passing of the 2018 Act is a welcome development for the UK automotive industry and looks to create an exciting and lucrative market opportunity for solicitors, particularly those operating in the renewable energy, property and planning sectors.

Ahead of September’s zero-emission vehicle summit, and in an effort to boost public awareness of clean vehicle technology, Theresa May announced the Government’s proposals to fit special, green number plates on low emission vehicles. If implemented, the proposals will see drivers of ULEVs receive special privileges, including access to special bus lanes, charging bays and low emission zones.

Whether the promise of these badges of honour will see a surge in zero-emission vehicle sales does, of course, remain to be seen. What is clear, however, is that initiatives like these will be critical in accelerating the UK’s transition away from petrol and diesel, towards the electric vehicle revolution.

Alyson Shaw is a trainee solicitor at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP.