Self Driving Vehicles

 Self driving vehicles could be on British roads in the very near future after the government’s new flagship Automated Vehicles Act – referenced in the King’s Speech – became law on the 20th May 2024.

The government has said road safety is at the heart of the legislation with automated vehicles expected to improve safety by reducing human error “which contributes to 88% of collisions”.

And it is with that in mind that these vehicles are almost independent from the cars that we see today. They are not modern cars with self driving capabilities, they are ‘self driving vehicles’ with their own laws.

The key part to this new law is that any issue involving self driving vehicles, such as a collision, will fall at the feet of the manufacturers, the insurance providers and the software developers. The liability will be with them.

The only time the so-called “user in charge” would be prosecuted is if they take over the driving of the vehicle. An individual would be considered the ‘user in charge’ only if that feature of the vehicle is switched on and engaged so that the individual would then be in a position to exercise control of the vehicle, and would only be prosecuted if they cause an action which results in an offence. But anything that the vehicle does independent of the ‘user in charge’ is not the driver’s fault and the driver cannot be liable.

Because of that, safety heavily considered in the legislation. And a large portion of the Autonomous Vehicles Act discusses various safety measures which will be independently assessed and regulated by independent bodies.

The law will require self driving vehicles to achieve a level of safety at least as high as careful and competent drivers, as well as meeting rigorous safety checks before being allowed onto roads.

These vehicles will only be manufactured by regulated and authorised manufacturers, and the vehicles themselves will be regulated and authorised. In fact a large part of the initial legislation details that authorisation and who exactly is able to authorise.

There are then various sections in the legislation to allow Police and Courts to demand the inspection of material, information, sites, and the power to enter those forcefully places if manufacturers do not comply.

There is no law suggesting that any modern cars or car manufacturers must include the option of self driving. This law is separate to current driving legislation and governs autonomous vehicles separately.

Whilst this law came into force in May, it could be a number of years before we actually see the rollout of autonomous vehicles on UK roads. Transport Secretary Mark Harper has stated that the landmark legislation means self driving vehicles could be rolled out as soon as 2026, but given the strict safety procedures, the regulations and the authorisations, and the various independent bodies that need to be researched, set u