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Automated Vehicles Act becomes law

Self-driving vehicles could be on British roads by 2026

20 May 2024
The AV Act enables advanced technology to drive vehicles on British roads


Self-driving vehicles could be on British roads by 2026, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received Royal Assent and signed into UK law.

Announced in the King’s Speech, the Act sets out a new regulatory framework for the self-driving industry.

The law will require self-driving vehicles to achieve a level of safety at least as high as careful and competent human drivers, as well as meeting safety checks before being allowed onto roads.

The Department for Transport says in the future deaths and injuries from drink driving, speeding, tiredness and inattention could be drastically reduced. The DfT predicts that automated vehicles will improve road safety by reducing human error, which contributes to 88% of road collisions.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said:  “Britain stands at the threshold of an automotive revolution, and this new law is a milestone moment for our self-driving industry which has the potential to change the way we travel forever.  

“While this doesn’t take away people’s ability to choose to drive themselves, our landmark legislation means self-driving vehicles can be rolled out on British roads as soon as 2026, in a real boost to both safety and our economy.”

The Act delivers a legal framework setting out who is liable for AVs, meaning that drivers can be assured that while their vehicle is in self-driving mode, they will not be held responsible for how the vehicle drives. For the first time, corporations such as insurance providers, software developers and automotive manufacturers can assume this responsibility. 

To ensure self-driving vehicles are safe for use on public roads, the vehicle approval system will be supported by an independent incident investigation function. This will promote the same culture of learning and continuous improvement that has made our aviation industry one of the safest in the world. Companies will have ongoing obligations to keep their vehicles safe and ensure that they continue to drive in accordance with UK law.  

Some AVs will have a ‘user-in-charge’ function, while others will be ‘no-user-in-charge’.

  • User-in-charge cars will have functionality to both be driven or to drive itself for some or all of the journey. When in self-driving mode, the driver is not responsible for how the vehicle drives, though they retain other responsibilities such as insurance and vehicle roadworthiness. When the vehicle is being driven, it is treated as a conventional vehicle.
  • A ‘no-user-in-charge’ journey would be one where the AV drives itself for the whole journey. No occupant is a driver during the journey and, in some cases, it may not be possible for the vehicle to be traditionally driven. A licensed operator would monitor the vehicle during the journey and ensure it is properly insured and maintained.

The AV Act follows self-driving trials already taking place across the country. For example, Wayve and Oxa are trialling self-driving cars in London and Oxford.

Paul Newman, founder and chief technical officer of Oxa, said: “The immense work put in by the DfT, Law Commissions and Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) in crafting the Automated Vehicles Bill has helped it pass into law with the strongest cross-party backing. We now have autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation which is more comprehensive in scope and clearer in its requirements than in any other country.

“The Act gives the UK new momentum as developers like Oxa will need to comply with the world’s most comprehensive autonomous vehicle laws to deploy technology in vehicles here. Meeting the highest AV standards will make British companies global leaders with technology that is the safest and AI systems the most trusted - all key to building business and public trust in autonomy globally.”

Wayve said its technological advancements have been supported by the UK’s Code of Practice: Automated Vehicle Trialling, which sets out a clear framework to support and promote the safe trailing of self-driving vehicle technology.

Alex Kendall, co-founder and chief executive of Wayve, said: “I am delighted that the Automated Vehicles Bill has received Royal Assent. This is a critical milestone for the UK’s deployment of self-driving technology and cements the UK as a global leader in regulating this sector. We are grateful to the Government and all who have engaged with us in the conversation about the importance of this legislation.

"Self-driving technology promises a safer, smarter and more sustainable future of transport. There’s still some way to go with secondary legislation before we can reap the full benefits of self-driving vehicles in the UK, but we are confident the government will prioritise these next steps so this technology can be deployed as soon as possible.”

This month Wayve secured more than $1bn in investment to develop its AI technology further here in the UK.

The government says passage of the Act will bolster the UK’s position in both the self-driving vehicle and?artificial intelligence (AI) sectors. Between 2018 and 2022, the UK self-driving vehicle sector generated £475m of direct investment and created 1,500 new jobs. It is suggested that self-driving vehicles could support areas previously impacted by driver shortages, such as haulage, and where work can be dangerous, such as mining.


Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “This is a watershed moment for UK automotive innovation and road safety in the UK. Self-driving vehicles will revolutionise our society, and this new law will help turn ambition into reality, putting the UK alongside a handful of other global markets that already have their regulatory frameworks in place.

“The industry will continue its close collaboration with government and other stakeholders to develop the necessary secondary legislation that will enable the safe and responsible commercial rollout of self-driving vehicles and the significant social and economic benefits they will afford the UK.”

The passage of the new law follows consistent government backing of the self-driving vehicle industry – with more than £600m in joint government and industry investment since 2015. The government says this funding has helped create new companies, build the AV supply chain and lay the groundwork for the early commercial market.  

Richard Cuerden, director at the Transport Research Laboratory, said: “TRL welcomes the AV Bill and the ambitious direction it sets to improve transport. The automated technology, software and sensors, and the business models to deliver new services, are developing fast. By setting a regulatory framework, the government is providing the industry with confidence and motivation to continue to, and we expect to increase investment in the UK, in this growing sector.

"The promise is more accessible, safer and greener journeys for goods and people, and at TRL we are working hard to ensure that this is delivered. The commercial success will only be possible if the public has trust in the technology and chooses to use AVs. Here safety is key and we are working hard to develop safe engineering and system requirements, and in parallel recognising that it is as important to provide public confidence.”

Max Sugarman, chief executive of Intelligent Transport Systems UK (ITS UK), added: “The intelligent transport industry will welcome the Automated Vehicle Act becoming law today, and the opportunity it provides to support the UK’s growing self-driving sector, with the jobs and economic growth it has the potential to create. Now, the work begins for industry and government to utilise this new regulatory framework, build up public awareness and understanding of the technology and to roll out schemes that will, ultimately, deliver a safer, more efficient and greener transport network for all.”

Professor Siddartha Khastgir, head of safe autonomy at WMG, University of Warwick, said: “The Automated Vehicle (AV) Act has laid a sound regulatory foundation for the AV industry in the UK. This is a first but important step to introducing AVs safely to the UK’s roads. I support the government’s ambition that AVs should be as safe as a careful and competent human driver; we therefore, urge the government to undertake swift work on the secondary legislation with a more robust focus and detailed definition of the performance requirements, keeping safety as our highest priority going forward. This will also provide certainty and clarity for technology developers and the AV industry. WMG will continue to work with the UK’s policymakers and provide research evidence to underpin AV policies, including the secondary legislation.”

Logistics UK’s head of engineering policy Phil Lloyd said: “The approval of the Automated Vehicle Act brings the future one step closer to reality, but there is still to be done if science fiction is to become fact. Logistics UK and its members want to work closely with government to build a regulatory framework and funding model for trials that enables our sector to act as a test-bed for vehicle development. At the same time, if these vehicles are to deliver the benefits for the economy that are anticipated, it is vital that transport infrastructure, investment and technologies make similarly swift progress, to ensure our sector can take full advantage of the opportunities that automation could deliver for the UK’s supply chain.”

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “This is a major step on the road to autonomous vehicles appearing on the UK’s roads. But there’s lots of work still to do, not least bringing drivers along on the journey. RAC research conducted last year showed 58% of drivers are scared by the idea of fully autonomous vehicles and just 15% think they’ll make the roads safer, so there needs to be a real culture change if we’re to see the public fully embrace them. There are also some very practical hurdles to overcome, such as how the cars of tomorrow will be able to successfully and safely navigate the UK’s complex web of streets – especially with so many potholes and faded road markings.”

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