Self-driving vehicles could be on British roads by 2026, after the government’s world-leading Automated Vehicles (AV) Act became law today (20 May 2024).  

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% 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.

The passage of the act bolsters the UK’s position as a world leader in emerging industries, with both the self-driving vehicle and artificial intelligence (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.

Source: Self-driving vehicles set to be on roads by 2026 as Automated Vehicles Act becomes law – GOV.UK (