The UK Government has revealed and shared details on the Automated Vehicle Bill, its new legislation for autonomous vehicles operating in the country.
Announced through King Charles’ inaugural King’s Speech as monarch, the bill presents a series of measures that will, together, enable and facilitate the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles on UK roads. The government has said that the bill will support a UK AV market worth up to £42 billion ($51.4 billion / €48.1 billion) and create 38,000 jobs by 2035.
The bill consists of three key objectives that will be achieved through a series of measures – the first being the establishment of a new safety framework for self-driving vehicles. At the core of this framework will be a threshold for self-driving vehicles. This will require any company looking to deploy an AV onto UK roads to ensure that their vehicle can drive itself safely and follow traffic rules without the need for human intervention. If the vehicle meets these conditions, then it will be classified as a self-driving vehicle and authorized for use on UK roads. This authorization will be granted by the UK’s Department of Transport and its agencies, who will be given new powers to authorize AVs and ensure they comply with the government’s safety standards.
Once a vehicle has been authorized to operate, the second measure under this objective will ensure that AV companies are held accountable for their operations. Here, companies must adhere to the government’s safety requirements from the point their self-driving vehicles are introduced onto UK roads. If they fail to do so, they will face consequences such as fines, requirements to take corrective action, suspension of operation, and criminal offences in more serious cases. Under a separate measure, if an incident involving an autonomous vehicle does take place, the bill will set out new processes to investigate these incidents and ensure that the key findings from these investigations will inform its safety framework.
Supporting this framework further is a dedicated measure that will work to digitalize Traffic Regulation Orders. This will require local authorities to send data on legal orders, such as speed limits, road closures, and parking bay designations, to a central publication platform. The data fed into this platform will then support the development of a digital map encompassing the UK’s road network, which itself will inform and support safe AV operations.
The second major objective of the bill will be to ensure a clear sense of legal liability around self-driving vehicles. Here, the government will hold companies looking to operate AVs in the UK legally responsible for how their vehicles drive and define a set of responsibilities for them to follow. At the same time, the bill will ensure that AVs from these companies drive according to existing British laws, while requiring them to report certain safety-related data to the authorization authority and in-use regulator and comply with further laws relevant to AVs – including those around data and environmental protection.
Another measure in this part of the bill relates to the individuals occupying self-driving vehicles, who the bill will provide with immunity from prosecution while a self-driving vehicle is carrying out the driving task. However, the individual will still legally bear non-driving responsibilities – such as maintaining appropriate insurance for the vehicle and ensuring proper loading – while remaining accountable for any part of the journey in which they are driving.
The third and final objective of the bill is to ensure that consumers are protected. Working in tandem with the safety threshold, this area of the bill will prohibit misleading marketing practices around AVs. Only vehicles that meet the government’s threshold will be permitted to be advertised as a self-driving vehicle, with the driver being responsible for other vehicles at all times. Here, the bill similarly highlights that anyone using a self-driving vehicle must be aware of their legal responsibilities in doing so.
While the majority of the bill’s measures will apply to all three constituent countries in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland), the government has said that the Digitalising Traffic Regulations Order will only apply to England. The legislation as a whole is one of many announced in the King’s Speech that together represent the UK government’s priorities for the next year.