Announced in the King’s Speech on 7 November 2023, the Bill aims to “unlock a transport revolution by enabling the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles” by creating a comprehensive legal framework and updating existing laws.
Introduced and having its first reading in the House of Lords on 8 November, the Bill implements recommendations for reform made by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission. In doing so, the Bill addresses matters relating to self-driving vehicle technology that were expected to feature in the previously announced (and paused) Transport Bill.
A UK Government policy paper ‘Automated Vehicles Bill: policy scoping notes’ published on 21 November 2023 recognises the “innovative, highly technical and fast-changing” nature of the self-driving vehicle industry. To that end the Bill provides for 35 delegated powers to ensure legislation keeps pace and continues to be fit for purpose. Whilst the Bill prescribes a new legislative framework for self-driving vehicles, the paper explains “the technical level of detail is more appropriately dealt with through secondary legislation”.
The provisions within the Bill will affect a wide range of stakeholders including manufacturers, insurers, police, local authorities and ultimately consumers as the end users of self-driving vehicle technology.
Key aims and benefits of the Bill
The briefing notes to the King’s Speech set out three central aims of the Bill, namely the creation of a rigorous safety framework, ensuring clear legal liability and consumer protection.
This will include setting the threshold for classification as self-driving and holding companies that develop and operate self-driving vehicles firmly accountable from the point a vehicle is introduced onto the roads for their ongoing responsibilities.
The Bill prohibits misleading marketing, and will also provide protection to users with immunity from prosecution in circumstances where it would be unfair for them to bear responsibility for the behaviour of a vehicle when the authorised 'user-in-charge' feature is engaged.
Key measures of the Bill
The Bill contains seven parts as follows:
- Part 1 - Regulatory scheme for automated vehicles
- Part 2 – Criminal liability for vehicle use
- Part 3 – Policing and investigation
- Part 4 – Marketing restrictions
- Part 5 – Permits for automated passenger services
- Part 6 – Adaptation of existing regimes
- Part 7 – General provision
Key measures include those relating to granting authorisation of automation features, transition demands communicated to a user-in-charge to assume control of the vehicle, and a requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a Statement of Safety Principles. As per the policy paper, the principles “must be framed with a view to securing that road safety will be better as a result of the use of authorised automated vehicles than otherwise” and will provide guidance to industry on the “standard of behaviour self-driving vehicles are expected to achieve”.
There is also provision for the “creation of a capability within government to investigate road incidents involving authorised automated vehicles”. The intention is to appoint inspectors with the necessary powers to investigate incidents and “make safety recommendations to those best placed to make positive change”.
Information collection requirements on Authorised Self-Driving Entities (ASDEs) are imposed. This is to enable the Secretary of State to discharge their monitoring duty, and for breaches of authorisation conditions or requirements to be identified under the in-use regulatory scheme. This requirement is also to enable the assessment of claims (under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018) by insurers.
The UK Government acknowledges “insurers will need to rely on vehicle-generated data to verify that the vehicle was in the alleged location, was driving itself, and to assist in identifying what party in the liability chain is responsible for any fault that caused or contributed to the incident”.
In relation to data needed by the in-use regulatory scheme and insurers, the UK Government anticipates “the requirement is likely to include each occasion” of activation/deactivation of a self-driving feature, issuing of a transition demand and when a collision is detected.
In addition to setting out the meaning of a user-in-charge and the responsibilities they will have, the Bill provides for the amendment of existing legislation to clarify what driving offences apply to a user-in-charge, and those they will have immunity from.
To prevent misleading marketing, the Bill introduces restricted terms offences, with the intention being for regulations to specify the “words, expressions, symbols or marks that may only be used to describe authorised automated vehicles”. The UK Government indicates that “marketing offences are likely to be the first provisions of the act to be brought into effect”.
The Bill is in the early stages of the parliamentary process, and had its second reading in the House of Lords on 28 November.
A desire to “cement the UK’s position as a global leader in this high tech and high growth industry” may raise this Bill up the list of priorities and accelerate its progress through the various stages of parliamentary scrutiny ahead of the next general election.
The UK Government policy paper indicating that the timing of secondary legislation will be subject to consultation on statutory instruments and guidance from next year through to 2026.