8 November 2023  |  Policy

AV Bill: How Legislation Will Shape Self-driving Technology Development in the UK

In a significant move towards fostering innovation in the transport sector, the UK Government has announced legislation for self-driving vehicles. This blog explores the implications of the Automated Vehicles Bill and its potential to shape the development and commercialisation of self-driving technology in the UK and beyond.

Wayve AV in London

Automated Vehicles Bill

Today’s announcement by the UK Government to bring forward legislation for self-driving vehicles is a significant milestone that signals the UK’s commitment to fostering innovation for the future of transportation. Wayve has been working with partners for over two years to press on the need for this legislation, and we warmly welcome this success for the whole sector. This clarity unlocks tremendous potential for growth in the self-driving vehicle industry and solidifies the UK’s position as a global leader in this rapidly developing tech sector.

The Automated Vehicles (AV) Bill is set to establish a comprehensive liability framework to ensure the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles. This legislation will provide crucial consumer protection and pave the way for commercialising self-driving technologies in the UK.

The AV Bill is based on a 4-year review by the Law Commission. The Law Commission’s legal proposals are world-leading; they create a comprehensive framework which transfers the duty of care from a driver to an Authorised Self-Driving Entity (ASDE). The framework itself is a legal innovation, which will make the UK the only jurisdiction to provide a clear set of rules for developers and consumers to reduce the risk of misleading marketing and confusion. This work will likely encourage the development of similar regimes globally, which is why it is so significant.

“Taking a sector-specific, common-sense approach to developing a robust safety framework and clear legal liabilities paves the way for commercialisation and ensures responsible development.”

Alex Kendall, Co-founder & CEO

The AV Bill’s comprehensive legal framework has safety and the protection of the user at its core. This will be done through:

  • Creating a rigorous new safety framework: setting the safety threshold for self-driving vehicles in law while giving the UK Government the tools it needs to enforce standards and hold companies to account.
  • Ensuring clear legal liability at all times: making companies responsible for how their self-driving vehicles behave on the road and protecting users from being unfairly held accountable.
  • Protecting consumers and the public: ensuring only vehicles that meet rigorous self-driving standards can be marketed as such.

All self-driving vehicles must comply with this law and undergo robust safety testing before they are permitted to drive on UK roads. This will ensure consistency and clarity for all AV developers. We are optimistic about the Bill’s enactment, as it gives us and our partners the confidence to further unlock innovation and investment in the UK.

Alex Kendall, Co-founder & CEO, Wayve said:
“I’m thrilled to see the UK’s commitment to establishing one of the most comprehensive legal frameworks for self-driving vehicles, built upon the Law Commission’s 4-year review of self-driving legislation. Taking a sector-specific, common-sense approach to developing a robust safety framework and clear legal liabilities paves the way for commercialisation and ensures responsible development.

The new primary legislation for self-driving vehicles gives us the confidence to continue investing in R&D and expanding our talented team in the UK. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the Government to solidify the UK’s position as a global leader in self-driving technology, promoting road safety and unlocking new avenues of growth.”

Yesterday, Wayve had the pleasure of joining Transport Secretary Mark Harper on a ride around Westminster in one of our self-driving vehicles. During this journey, Transport Secretary Harper engaged in a thought-provoking discussion with our CEO, Alex Kendall, about the transformative effects this technology will have on road safety and society.

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Benefits of self-driving technologies

According to Government figures, a strong UK self-driving sector could bring significant economic impacts.

  • The UK market is estimated to be worth £41.7 billion in 2035, capturing 6.4% of the £650 billion global market.
  • Jobs in the self-driving sector will reach 87,000 by 2035; 49,000 will be jobs in the motor vehicle manufacturing sector, and 38,000 will be net new.
  • Self-driving technologies will create productivity increases and cost savings in other sectors, including logistics and passenger services.

Beyond economic benefits, self-driving vehicles can make our roads safer, make transportation more accessible for people who find it hard to travel and support the transition to Net Zero by eliminating some of the most emissions-intensive driving-related behaviours. This technology can do so much for society in giving people more choices in travel, but we need to get it right by ensuring we have robust legal frameworks to deploy automated vehicles safely and responsibly.

“It’s never been more crucial to have a shared understanding of the risks and opportunities of self-driving vehicles and AI across industry, government, and the public so we can all focus on what’s important.”

Sarah Gates, Director of Public Policy, Wayve

Self-Driving APPG

Wayve, along with global insurer AXA, law firm Burges Salmon, and engineering consulting firm WSP, founded the Self-driving All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in April 2023. The APPG was launched to stress the need for legislation and provide a crucial forum for parliamentarians, industry, and academics to learn about this emerging technology, its use and its development stage. The APPG also provides Wayve and the rest of the industry with a forum to hear the concerns of these stakeholders.

In June 2023, the Self-Driving APPG launched a consultation into the economic, environmental, and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles and the public perceptions of the technology. The consultation sought to gather evidence from stakeholders to raise awareness of self-driving, highlight the barriers to commercial deployment in the UK, and identify actions to address these. The consultation concluded in September 2023 with the release of a report, “The economic, environmental, and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles,” summarising recommendations to make the commercial rollout of self-driving vehicles a reality.

Sarah Gates, Director of Public Policy, Wayve, said:

“It’s never been more crucial to have a shared understanding of the risks and opportunities of self-driving vehicles and AI across industry, government, and the public so we can all focus on what’s important. Wayve is fully engaged in advancing that shared understanding. 

We co-sponsor the APPG for self-driving vehicles with AXA, WSP and Burgess Salmon and chair an international regulatory group at UNECE on new legal instruments for self-driving in traffic. We want to hear all of the global concerns from governments so we can align our technology and products to meet rigorous standards and encourage a safety culture across the industry. 

Self-driving vehicles can make transport safer, more convenient and more accessible, improving the lives of millions of people. But we need a clear liability framework to prevent confusion and protect people and businesses from being unfairly held accountable.

UK leadership in AI

In addition to shaping the future of transportation, the AV Bill also positions the UK in a globally progressive stance on artificial intelligence. By paving the way for the safe deployment of self-driving technology, the legislation lays the foundation for a new industry to be built upon AI.

Securing public trust in AI is of paramount importance. We acknowledge the concerns about AI and the rapid pace of innovation. That’s why we support collaboration with government, academia and industry to ensure appropriate safety thresholds are designed and met through our Project DriveSafeAI.

DriveSafeAI is a government-backed safety initiative with the University of Warwick (WMG), world-leading experts in verifying and validating the safety of self-driving technologies. DriveSafeAI, which is supported by a £1.9 million grant, will ensure that the methodologies used to evaluate the safe deployment of AI software in self-driving vehicles are clear and trustworthy. This will give the public and policymakers confidence in this technology so we can bring its benefits to society.

The Road Ahead

It is an exciting time to be developing self-driving technology in the UK. Creating new legal entities through the Automated Vehicles Bill to ensure clear legal liability when a vehicle drives itself is essential for commercial deployment at scale. It will put the UK in a position to influence how other jurisdictions may put this into practice. The Bill is the first step to creating a complete legal framework, and we look forward to continuing our close collaboration with the UK Government over the coming years to see the Bill, and its implementation, through.

But the UK is just one piece of the puzzle: legal frameworks and safety standards are needed globally to achieve scaled self-driving services. At Wayve, we’re working with governments internationally—with fora such as the European Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on the myriad technical safety standards and new road laws needed to deploy AVs.

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