DfT celebrates landmark Automated Vehicles Act

21/05/2024
Chris Ames

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the ‘world-leading’ Automated Vehicles (AV) Act, which became law on Monday (20 May), enables advanced technology to safely drive vehicles on British roads.

Ministers boasted the Act ‘puts Great Britain firmly at the forefront of self-driving technology regulation’ and that road safety is at the heart of the legislation, with automated vehicles expected to improve road safety by reducing human error.

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.

After the law passed, transport secretary Mark Harper set a new date when the autonomous vehicles ‘could be on British roads' – five years later than its previous target.

Mr Harper said: ‘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 Act follows self-driving trials already being carried out in London and Oxford by ‘home-grown British success stories’ Wayve and Oxa.

Wayve has said its 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.

In the 2017 Autumn Budget,  the Government said it would make ‘world-leading’ changes to the regulatory framework, such as setting out how driverless cars can be tested without a human safety operator.’

It stated: ‘The government wants to see fully self-driving cars, without a human operator, on UK roads by 2021.’

In February 2019, the DfT announced that ‘a process is being developed to support advanced trials of automated vehicles’ but an updated code of practice acknowledged that vehicles without an on-board driver must have a safety driver or operator able to control the vehicle remotely.

No fully self-driving cars were on UK roads by 2021 but the code of practice was updated last year, alongside a guidance setting out a process for authorisations and exemptions for ‘more complex CAV trials’.

The new Act establishes that while vehicles are in self-driving mode, drivers 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,’ the DfT said.

Paul Newman, founder and CTO of Oxa, said: ‘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.’

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