Government pushes ahead with new laws on self-driving vehicles

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14th November 2023

The Government is moving ahead with legislation to enable the rollout of self-driving vehicle technology and “position the UK as world-leader”.

The new Automated Vehicles Bill was announced in the King’s Speech on Tuesday 7 November and the new laws have now been introduced into Parliament.

One of 21 bills announced by King Charles in his first-ever opening address of Parliament as monarch, the legislation will allow autonomous vehicles to operate without safety drivers on roads for the first time across Britain.

The Government says the advent of self-driving vehicles will help make travel more convenient and accessible, improving the lives of millions of people who cannot drive and better connecting rural communities.

It will also boost safety and investment while creating an estimated 38,000 new jobs in the UK from a £42bn industry, opening up on-demand transport services while streamlining last-mile delivery and long-haul freight solutions.

The new Bill will underpin this, delivering one of the most comprehensive legal frameworks of its kind anywhere in the world for self-driving vehicles, according to the Government.

The new safety framework will ensure clear liability for the user, set the safety threshold for legal self-driving and establish an in-use regulatory scheme to monitor the ongoing safety of these vehicles.

All self-driving vehicles will be required to undergo robust safety testing before they are permitted to drive on UK roads, and the AV Bill will ensure clear legal liability when a vehicle is driving itself by creating new legal entities responsible for self-driving.

Every authorised self-driving vehicle will have a corresponding ‘Authorised Self-Driving Entity’ – most likely the manufacturer – which will be responsible for the behaviour of the vehicle when self-driving. Companies will have ongoing obligations to keep their vehicles safe and ensure that they continue to drive in accordance with British laws.

The Bill will also clamp down on “misleading” market practices, including around using ambiguous terminology in advertising material around whether their vehicles classify as self-driving.

Regulations under the Bill will set out specific terminology and symbols which will be reserved for marketing authorised self-driving vehicles. Any unauthorised and improper use of this terminology will be treated as a criminal offence.

The laws implement the recommendations set out in a four-year review by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Our new Bill ensures safety is at the heart of our plans to see self-driving vehicles on our roads, making the UK a great place to develop this technology.

“We have the opportunity to put the UK at the forefront of a fast-growing, multi-billion-pound industry by providing the clarity and certainty for business to develop and invest in this exciting technology.”

Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of autonomous vehicle startup Wayve, commented: “By setting out a clear path to commercialisation, new primary legislation for self-driving vehicles gives us the confidence to continue investing in research and development and growing our talent base here in the UK.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the government to cement the UK’s role as a global centre of excellence for self-driving technology that will make our roads safer and unlock new growth.”

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