juin 12 2024

The Road Ahead – the Automated Vehicles Bill becomes law


The Automated Vehicles Act 2024 (the "Act") received royal assent on 20 May 2024, two days before the general election was announced and the wash-up period began for the now-dissolved Parliament.

The Act amends the existing road vehicle legislation by permitting "authorised automated vehicles" to travel on roads in Great Britain (the provisions of the Act do not extend to Northern Ireland) even when there is no natural person exercising control over the vehicle.

The Act further introduces a framework for the authorisation of automated vehicles, restricts the use of certain terms in marketing to such authorised vehicles, and allows for the establishment for a permit-based system for provision of automated passenger services.


An autonomous vehicle needs to be authorised to benefit from the provisions of the Act. This authorisation can only be granted where the vehicle satisfies a self-driving test. The test is location and circumstance specific, and requires the vehicle to have a feature which permits it to travel:

  1. autonomously, meaning that the control of the vehicle is exercised by its equipment rather than an individual, and no individual monitors the vehicle's surrounding with a view of immediately intervening in such control;
  2. safely, meaning that the vehicle travels to an acceptable safe standard; and
  3. legally, meaning the vehicle travels with an acceptably low risk of committing a traffic infraction.

The Secretary of State for Transport (the "Secretary of State" or "Secretary") will prepare a statement of safety principles under the Act, to which authorisation bodies will need to have regard to when assessing the autonomous and safe nature of a vehicle. The principles need to be formulated to ensure that automated travel is at least as safe as when undertaken by a competent human driver, and that road safety will be better as a result of the use of automated vehicles. 

Self-driving features

The authorisation of an automated feature must specify whether the feature operates with a user-in-charge or as no-user-in-charge.

A user-in-charge feature allows the vehicle to meet the self-driving test but still requires that an individual who is capable of taking over control is present in the car. The vehicle may issue a transition demand to this user – a notification requiring the individual to take over the driving of the vehicle within a specified timeframe. These transition demands can be made when the feature fails, for example due to a change in circumstances or a failure of the vehicle's sensors.

On the other hand, a no-user-in-charge feature is authorised to complete the given driving task without anyone being present in the vehicle.

Vehicles are authorised by reference to these features. Accordingly, the same vehicle can be authorised as having both user-in-charge and no-user-in-charge features. For example, a user-in-charge feature could enable the vehicle to travel on highways, while a no-user-in-charge feature could allow it to park autonomously.

Entities responsible for vehicles

Each authorised vehicle, whether authorised due to having no-user-in-charge or user-in-charge features, must have a designated "authorised self-driving entity" responsible for it.

Additionally, journeys completed using no-user-in-charge features must be overseen by a no-user-in-charge operator. The same organisation can act as both a no-user-in-charge operator and the authorised self-driving entity in respect of the same vehicle, or the two responsibilities can be split – for example, between the vehicle manufacturer and software developer.

The authorisation and licensing of organisations and vehicles under the Act can be subject to specified requirements imposed by the Secretary of State by way of regulations. These can be initial or ongoing compliance requirements, and they can relate to the ability of an organisation to continue to meet the obligations imposed by the Act.

New powers are granted to the Secretary of State to aid investigations into whether automated vehicles drive safely and legally and whether the regulated entities fulfil their responsibilities under the Act. The Secretary can request information, compel an individual to attend an interview, and request a warrant to search premises. The Act introduces new corporate offences for obstructing such investigations, including criminal liability for named individuals and senior management.

The Act also permits the Secretary to appoint inspectors, who are empowered to investigate incidents involving automated vehicles. They have broadly the same investigatory powers, but their role is limited to reducing the harm arising from the use of automated vehicles. They do not establish blame or liability.

Breach of authorisation

Where the investigation concludes that a regulated entity has breached its obligations under the relevant authorisation or license, the Secretary of State can issue a compliance or a redress notice. These can oblige the relevant body to take specified actions to rectify the non-compliance with the Act.

If an organisation ignores these notices, or refuses to cooperate during the investigation, the Act empowers the Secretary of State to issue a monetary notice. The maximum amount of a fine under the Act will be specified by regulations. Fines can also be issued where an automated vehicle commits a traffic infraction while driving autonomously.

The notice should be issued to the body actually responsible for the breach. Where the fault lies with the no-user-in-charge operator, the enforcement action has to be directed to them, rather than the  authorised self-driving entity.

As a corollary, users-in-charge are not liable under criminal law for driving infractions resulting from the way the vehicle drives when a user-in-charge feature is engaged. They remain liable for non-driving related obligations, such as insurance.


The Secretary of State can introduce regulations which specify words, expressions, or symbols which are restricted from being used to advertise road vehicles unless they are authorised as autonomous vehicles. It is an offence to use such designated words and symbols to advertise non-authorised vehicles. It is also an offence to use language or symbols that are likely to confuse road vehicle users as to whether or not a given vehicle is authorised under the Act.

Passenger services without a driver

The Act further establishes a system for granting permits to provide automated passenger services. These permits can disapply the requirement to hold a license as a taxi, private hire vehicle, or a bus. Where such permits are sought, the relevant licensing authorities need to be consulted first.

What's next?

The Act compliments the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 and aims to promote the uptake of self-driving cars on roads in Great Britian – however, almost all of its provisions need to be brought into force by regulations and secondary legislation by the Secretary of State. A significant number of these instruments have to be consulted on, and importantly, approved by Parliament.

The Government's own update estimates that vehicles authorised under the Act will appear on roads by 2026. Until then, businesses interested in this topic – such as car manufacturers and software developers – are advised to closely monitor the announcements coming from the Department for Transport and actively engage with any consultations.

Contrasting the approach

In the European Union, automated vehicles of "Level 4" – meaning cars that can automatically complete tasks in specified circumstances, such as parking or completing pre-defined routes – can receive type-approval since September 2022 under the Commission Implementing Regulation 2022/1426. This type-approval is subject to the small series scheme – meaning that once it is received, manufacturers can produce up to 1 500 vehicles to be placed in the EU market. When the limit was originally imposed, the Commission advised that it would revise it in two years – in July 2024. There have been no further communications from the Commission suggesting when the limit may be raised.

While type-approval permits a vehicle to be sold in the EU, it does not necessarily allow it to be used. The regulation on using such vehicles remains within the competencies of Member States. Similarly, national laws dictate roadworthiness testing, insurance, and liability rules.

The Act brings the UK up to speed with continental Europe; and may potentially take it over, setting out clear liability rules and providing framework for all levels of automation. It is also unlikely to change – while national legislation of Member States may be subject to future harmonisation attempts at EU level. Manufacturers may thus find the UK market more appealing, especially if the future Government (specifically the Secretary of State for Transport) prioritises the implementation of the Act.

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