Self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2026 as Automated Vehicles Act becomes law

Self-driving vehicles could be on British roads by 2026, after the Government’s Automated Vehicles (AV) Act became law yesterday.  

Announced in the King’s Speech, the AV Act enables advanced technology to safely drive vehicles on British roads. 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.  

Road safety is at the heart of the legislation, with automated vehicles expected to improve road safety by reducing human error, which contributes to 88 per cent 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 passage of the Act bolsters the UK’s position as a world leader in emerging industries, with both the self-driving vehicle and AI sectors bringing huge potential for economic growth as they develop.

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. This month it was revealed Wayve had secured more than $1 billion in investment to develop its AI technology further here in the UK.

Wayve has said that their 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.

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, such as mining. 

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 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 British laws.   

Trials show how self-driving vehicles can be used to improve the lives of millions of Brits – improving mobility and access to services, reducing isolation and better connecting rural communities. The Act opens up vehicle use to millions who haven’t been able to do so previously, boosting transport accessibility across the country.  

Paul Newman, Founder and CTO of Oxa, said: “The immense work put in by the 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 (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.”

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), responded: “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.”

(Pic – Oxa/DfT)


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