The first King’s Speech in 70 years has reaffirmed the Government’s intention to introduce legislation underpinning a new legal framework for self-driving vehicles.  A bill was first announced in the May 2022 Queen’s Speech but as part of a much wider Transport Bill to be introduced in the 2022/23 session.  The scale and complexity of the Transport Bill led to announcement in December 2022 however that there would not be parliamentary time to introduce the bill.  It was hoped that discrete elements of the proposed package of transport reforms could nevertheless be taken forward – including those for self-driving vehicles – but that was not ultimately possible.

The Government’s report ‘Connected & Automated Mobility 2025: Realising the benefits of self-driving vehicles in the UK’ highlights that the industry could be worth £750bn globally by 2025 and that the UK share of this is estimated to be worth £42 billion.  To promote these benefits, the Self-Driving APPG sponsored by AXA UK, Burges Salmon, Wayve and WSP has been undertaking a series of evidence workshops to highlight the benefits of self-driving, outline the barriers to commercial deployment and identify actions to mitigate and address these.  The workshops have involved a broad range of participants from industry, parliament and other relevant organisations.  The workshops and associated call for evidence culminated in the publication of the APPG’s paper ‘The economic, environmental, and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles’ on 2 November 2023.  Top of the wishlist for industry was inclusion of an Automated Vehicles Bill in the King's Speech.

As it was in May 2022, it is anticipated that the basis of the proposed self-driving legal framework of the Automated Vehicles Bill will be as set out in the UK Government paper “Connected & Automated Mobility 2025”.  Such changes would represent the most radical reforms to road traffic and vehicle laws for decades and ultimately lay the foundational framework by which vehicles with self-driving functionality could be approved and authorised as safe for deployment onto UK roads.  The Government paper and background work to develop a system for regulatory approval in turn follows the January 2022 publication of the joint report of the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission on automated vehicles having commenced their comprehensive research and review in 2018.

It will be clear from above therefore that reform has been a long-time coming and, certainly from industry’s point of view, much-needed.  Much of the thinking, debate and groundwork has already been undertaken for this bill and, in the final session before the UK’s next General Election, that may be an all-important factor in circumstances where there is expected to be many competing calls for effective use of limited parliamentary time.

If you would like to discuss further any of the details of this article or self-driving vehicle legislation, please contact Brian Wong or Lucy Pegler.