The UK’s Automated Vehicles Act has been approved, paving the way for self-driving cars to operate on the nation’s roads by 2026. 

With the enactment of the new law, it is estimated that the sector could be worth up to £42bn and create 38,000 skilled jobs by 2035.  

The government emphasises that road safety is the cornerstone of this legislation to significantly reduce the human error responsible for 88% of road collisions. 

Self-driving vehicles will be held to stringent safety standards, required to match or surpass the safety levels of careful and competent human drivers.  

Rigorous safety checks will be a prerequisite for these vehicles before they are allowed on the roads, potentially mitigating incidents caused by drunk driving, speeding, and inattention. 

The Royal Assent to the act follows several successful self-driving trials across the UK, including those by British companies Wayve and Oxa in London and Oxford, respectively. 

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Recently, Wayve has attracted more than $1bn in investment to advance its self-driving AI technology within the UK.  

From 2018 to 2022, the self-driving vehicle sector in the UK has already seen £475m in direct investment and the creation of 1,500 new jobs. 

The potential applications of self-driving vehicles are vast, right from addressing haulage driver shortages to enhancing safety in hazardous industries such as mining.  

The UK will employ a vehicle approval system, bolstered by an independent incident investigation function, to ensure the highest safety standards, drawing from the safety culture in the aviation industry.

Ongoing obligations for companies will ensure that self-driving vehicles remain safe and compliant with UK laws.

Trials have demonstrated the potential for self-driving vehicles to improve mobility, access to services, and connectivity, especially for rural communities.

UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “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.

“While this does not 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.”

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Mike Hawes said: “This is a watershed moment for UK automotive innovation and road safety in the UK. Self-driving vehicles will revolutionise our society, and this new law will help turn ambition into reality, putting the UK alongside a handful of other global markets that already have their regulatory frameworks in place.”