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AV Bill becomes law as government teases 2026 for self-driving cars on UK roads

Self-driving UK
Image credit: Wayve

Self-driving cars could be on UK roads in just two years following the Automated Vehicles Act receiving Royal Assent today in what could be a significant boost for the country’s autonomous vehicle startups.

The act, announced during last year’s King’s Speech, provides a legal framework for self-driving vehicles to be deployed on UK roads, with the Department for Transport estimating a rollout in 2026.

The new law requires autonomous vehicles to meet a level of safety equal to that of a “careful and competent human driver”.

The law also protects drivers from responsibility in the event of accidents while vehicles are in self-driving mode, with the onus on software developers, automotive manufacturers and insurance providers.

The government described the act as the “most comprehensive legal framework of its kind worldwide”.

Autonomous vehicles are seen by the government as a key industry for Britain to lead in, with an estimated value of £42bn by 2035.

“Britain stands at the threshold of an automotive revolution and this new law is a milestone moment for our self-driving industry, which has the potential to change the way we travel forever,” said Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

“While this doesn’t take away people’s ability to choose to drive themselves, our landmark legislation means self-driving vehicles can be rolled out on British roads as soon as 2026, in a real boost to both safety and our economy.”

The passing of the act follows numerous trials of the technology in the UK conducted by firms such as Oxa and Wayve – which this month closed a $1.05bn funding round.

Though the government estimates deployment by 2026, Oxa CTO Paul Newman told UKTN in March that he was uncomfortable giving exact timelines.

Commenting on the AV Bill becoming law today, Newman said: “The act gives the UK new momentum as developers like Oxa will need to comply with the world’s most comprehensive autonomous vehicle laws to deploy technology in vehicles here.

“Meeting the highest AV standards will make British companies global leaders with technology that is the safest and AI systems the most trusted – all key to building business and public trust in autonomy globally.”