On 8 November 2023, the day after the King’s Speech, the House of Lords published the Automated Vehicles Draft Bill, a landmark piece of legislation that seeks to pave the way for the safe adoption of automated vehicles (AVs) in the UK.  As the Bill’s Explanatory Notes state, the Bill seeks to “set the legal framework for the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles in Great Britain”.

The Government has made clear that the draft Bill implements the recommendations of the Law Commissions' joint 4 year review of legal reform for automated vehicles with provisions trailed heavily in its previous response to that in its “Connected and Automated Mobility 2025" paper. 

Overview of the Draft Bill

There are seven Parts of the Bill. Namely:

1.      Regulatory Scheme – Chapter 1 establishes the fundamental principles, safety expectations, and regulatory framework for a vehicle to be licensed as "self-driving" in Great Britain. Central to the framework will be the newly introduced concept of an authorised self-driving entity (ASDE) who will be legally responsible for the AV. Chapter 2 provides for the implementation of ‘no-user-in-charge’ (NUiC) vehicles, for which there will have to be a licensed operator that has “oversight” of each vehicle (for example, ensuring it is properly maintained and insured). Chapters 3 to 7 then focus on enforcement; with Chapter 3, for example, seeking to ensure proper information provision by ASDEs and licensed operators, both in the initial licensing stage and subsequent inspections, and providing sanctions for failure to do so.

2.      Criminal Liability for vehicle use – Chapter 1 provides a ‘user-in-charge’ (UIC) definition, immunity for the UIC in certain instances, exceptions to the immunity, and concludes with establishing when the UIC will be liable due to still being legally defined as a ‘driver’ (including via being a ‘deemed driver’ when they are not in a position to be in control of the AV, but should have been). Chapter 2 then provides the offences themselves, via adding AV-specific offences to existing road offences (such as ‘dangerous use’).  

3.      Policing and Investigation – Chapter 1 provides powers to order AVs to stop when suspected of an offence (namely, via ‘appropriate communication with equipment of the vehicle’) and also to seize and detain AVs (if there is reason to believe the AV has or is about to commit an offence). Chapter 2 then introduces the role of ‘automated vehicle incident inspectors’, whose investigations must seek to ‘determine what caused’ a relevant incident (not seek to lay blame).

4.      Marketing Restrictions – creates an offence where a vehicle is incorrectly described in terms specified by the Secretary of State (with the Explanatory Notes citing “self-driving” as one likely such term) and a more general offence of producing (or causing to production of) a communication that would be likely to confuse the public as to a non-AV’s autonomous capabilities and licensing status.

5.      Permits for Automated Passenger Services (APS) – provides the power to the ‘appropriate national authority' to grant such permits. It also confirms the disapplication of taxi etc legislation as recommended by the Law Commission (meaning that an APS could not be prosecuted for unlawfully plying for hire). Finally, it also requires a second level of consent where the APS ‘resembles’ a taxi or bus service (with this secondary consent need to come from each local body that the resembling service operates in).

6.      Adaption of existing regimes – provides the Secretary of State with the power to amend ‘type approval legislation’ (as the EU did in September 2022) and extends the powers of ‘vehicle examiners’ to AVs (and allows them to prohibit one from driving if it fails an examination).

7.      General Provisions – provides definitions and confirms the territorial scope (extends to England, Wales and Scotland, with a few exceptions). 

What Next?

Much of the legal groundwork has already been completed by the Law Commissions in their consultations on the topic and the Government through its Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).  With Parliament now entering its last session before the next General Election and the early introduction of the draft bill, there will be much hope for a smooth progress.

Nevertheless, the publication of this Bill should go a long way to reassuring a nascent AV industry and signalling to prospective AV manufacturers and operators the UK's intent to introduce self-driving technologies.

If you would like to discuss further any of the details of the Bill or self-driving vehicle legislation, please contact Brian Wong and Lucy Pegler.  In the meantime, please do look out for further posts down the line as we look in more detail at specific areas of the bill as it progresses.

[This article was written by Callum Duckmanton and Brian Wong]