Automated Vehicles Act becomes law in the UK

May 22 | 2024

The Automated Vehicles Act has become law in the UK (on 20 May, 2024), paving the way for self-driving vehicles to be operating on the country’s roads by 2026.

Automated Vehicles Act becomes law in the UKThe Department for Transport (DfT) said that road safety is at the heart of the legislation, with automated vehicles expected to improve road safety by reducing human error.

The new law puts Great Britain firmly at the forefront of self-driving technology regulation, unlocking the potential of an industry estimated to be worth up to £42 billion and creating 38,000 more skilled jobs by 2035.  Automated vehicles are also expected to improve road safety by reducing human error, which contributes to 88% of road collisions. 

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 rigorous safety checks before being allowed onto roads. Therefore, in the future deaths and injuries from drink driving, speeding, tiredness and inattention could be drastically reduced.   

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 AV Act follows self-driving trials already taking place across the country. For example, home-grown British success stories Wayve and Oxa are trialling self-driving cars in London and Oxford. In May it was revealed Wayve had secured more than $1 billion in investment to develop its AI technology further in the UK.

Between 2018 and 2022, the UK self-driving vehicle sector alone generated £475 million of direct investment and created 1,500 new jobs. Self-driving vehicles could support areas previously impacted by driver shortages, such as haulage, and where work can be dangerous.

The Act delivers the most comprehensive legal framework of its kind worldwide, 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 these vehicles are safe for British roads, the vehicle approval system will be supported by a completely independent incident investigation function. This will promote the same culture of learning and continuous improvement that has made the UK’s 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 British laws.   

Paul Newman, Founder and CTO of Oxa, said: “The immense work put in by DfT, Law Commissions and CCAV in crafting the Automated Vehicles Bill has helped it pass into law with the strongest cross-party backing. We now have autonomous vehicle legislation, which is more comprehensive in scope and clearer in its requirements than in any other country.”

Alex Kendall, Co-Founder and CEO 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.”

Richard Cuerden, Director at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), said: “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.”

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 more 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.”

Photo: Courtesy of Wayve.