By: 30 May 2024
Automated Vehicles Act: UK’s move towards safer roads

Self-driving vehicles are set to be operational on British roads by 2026 following the enactment of the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act, which received royal assent on 20 May. This legislation positions Britain at the forefront of the self-driving technology sector, an industry projected to be worth up to £42 billion and create over 38,000 new jobs by 2035.


Enhancing road safety

Central to this legislation is a commitment to enhancing road safety. Automated vehicles are anticipated to reduce human error, which is a contributing factor in 88% of road collisions. The new law mandates that self-driving vehicles must match or surpass the safety levels of careful and competent human drivers and pass rigorous safety checks before hitting the roads. This initiative aims to significantly reduce deaths and injuries from drunk driving, speeding, fatigue, and inattention.

Transport secretary Mark Harper lauded the AV Act as a “milestone moment” for the UK’s self-driving industry. Harper emphasised that while individuals can still choose to drive manually, the new legislation provides the framework for safely integrating self-driving vehicles into British roadways by 2026, enhancing both safety and economic prospects.


Setting global standards

The AV Act is a robust legal framework setting global standards. It specifies liability during self-driving mode, ensuring drivers are not held responsible for the vehicle’s actions. Instead, corporations such as insurance providers, software developers, and automotive manufacturers will assume this responsibility.

To uphold safety, an independent incident investigation function, modelled after the aviation industry’s safety protocols, will support the vehicle approval system. Companies are obligated to maintain ongoing safety and compliance with British laws.

Trials across the UK, including those by companies like Wayve and Oxa in London and Oxford, have demonstrated the potential of self-driving technology. Wayve has recently secured over $1 billion in investment to further its AI advancements, bolstered by the UK’s supportive regulatory framework.

Paul Newman, founder and CTO of Oxa, and Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of Wayve, expressed strong support for the AV Act, highlighting its comprehensive scope and the new opportunities it creates for UK-based companies to lead globally in autonomous technology.

The passage of the AV Act follows extensive government support for the self-driving vehicle industry, with over £600 million invested jointly by the government and industry since 2015. This has spurred the creation of innovative companies and a burgeoning AV supply chain.


A legal perspective

In an exclusive comment, Deborah Newberry, corporate affairs director at Kennedys, stated, “This is an important development in the move towards seeing self-driving vehicles on UK roads, providing a legal framework upon which the regulatory detail is to be added.

“Insurers will be keen to see the secondary legislation that follows outlining, among other things, the provision of data by ‘authorised self-driving entities’ and ‘licensed no-user-in-charge operators’ following a collision, which will be crucial to establish who or what was in control of the vehicle at material times.

“Consultations to help shape this legislation, which is key to the successful implementation of the technology, are planned for later this year. However, it may be that the focus of such measures will resume following the general election”.


The introduction of self-driving vehicles promises significant societal benefits, including improved mobility, reduced isolation, and better connectivity for rural communities. By creating a safer, more efficient, and inclusive transportation system, the AV Act represents a transformative step towards the future of travel in the UK.


Image: Canva.
Emma Cockings
Emma is a content editor for Claims Media. Emma is a experienced writer with a background in client-centric personal injury for a major firm. She has attended and reported on multiple brokerage events throughout her career.