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UK Roads to See Self-Driving Vehicles by 2026

Self-driving vehicles could be operating on British roads by 2026 following the enactment of the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act, which received royal assent on May 20, 2024. This groundbreaking legislation, prominently featured in the King’s Speech, paves the way for advanced technology to safely navigate vehicles on British roads. The UK government believes that the regulation of self-driving technology holds the potential to unlock a £42 billion industry and create 38,000 skilled jobs by 2035.

A core focus of the AV Act is road safety, as automated vehicles are expected to significantly reduce human error—a factor implicated in 88% of road collisions according to government statistics. The new law mandates that self-driving vehicles meet safety standards on par with those of careful and competent human drivers. They must also pass rigorous safety checks before being approved for use on the roads. This move aims to diminish incidents related to drunk driving, speeding, fatigue, and inattention, which are common causes of road accidents.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper hailed the legislation as a pivotal moment for the UK’s automotive sector. “Britain stands at the threshold of an automotive revolution, and this new law is a milestone for our self-driving industry, which has the potential to transform how we travel. While this doesn’t remove people’s ability to choose to drive themselves, our landmark legislation allows self-driving vehicles to be deployed on British roads as early as 2026, providing a significant boost to both safety and our economy.”

The AV Act builds on a series of self-driving trials across the UK. Companies such as Wayve and Oxa have been testing self-driving cars in cities like London and Oxford. Wayve, notably, has secured over US$1 billion in investment to advance its AI technology, supported by the UK’s code of practice for automated vehicle trialling. From 2018 to 2022, the UK’s self-driving vehicle sector attracted £475 million in direct investment and created 1,500 jobs.

The new law establishes a comprehensive legal framework, detailing liability for automated vehicles and ensuring independent incident investigation to foster continuous safety improvements. Key industry leaders have lauded the legislation. Paul Newman, founder and CTO of Oxa, praised the AV Act for its thoroughness: “The act gives the UK new momentum, as developers like Oxa must comply with the world’s most comprehensive autonomous vehicle laws to deploy technology here. Meeting the highest AV standards will position British companies as global leaders with the safest technology and the most trusted AI systems, which is essential for building business and public trust in autonomy globally.”

Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of Wayve, also highlighted the UK’s leading role in regulating self-driving technology and its potential benefits for safety and sustainability. Similarly, Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), emphasized the industry’s commitment to collaborating with the government and other stakeholders to develop the necessary secondary legislation for the safe and responsible commercial rollout of self-driving vehicles, along with the significant social and economic benefits they promise.

Richard Cuerden, academy director at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), welcomed the AV bill and its ambitious goals for improving transport. He noted, “The automated technology, software, sensors, and business models to deliver new services are developing rapidly. By setting a regulatory framework, the government provides the industry with confidence and motivation to continue innovating, and we expect to see increased investment in this growing sector in the UK.

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