Floodlit Houses of Parliament photographed in the evening from the opposite bank of the Thames.

The Automated Vehicles Act 2024 became law on 20 May 2024, when the Automated Vehicles Bill (AV Bill) received Royal Assent. The text of the Act is expected to be published later today on the UK Parliament website.

The AV Bill began life in the House of Lords on 8 November 2023 (as HL Bill 1) and, after its passage through the House of Commons, returned to the Lords on 8 May 2024 for consideration of the Commons’ amendments.

The AV Bill was the product of a four-year consultation on automated vehicle law by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission, whose recommendations were accepted by the government in August 2022. The AV Bill complemented the insurance and liability reforms of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEVA 2018) with a regulatory scheme intended to provide not only for pre-deployment authorisation but also for continuous, in-use monitoring of the safety of automated vehicles. The regulatory scheme of the AV Bill sought to enforce the responsibilities of manufacturers and operators of automated vehicles and AV passenger services by a scheme of statutory inspection, civil sanctions and criminal offences.

In the main, the AV Bill enjoyed cross-party support throughout its Parliamentary journey to enactment, and the Automated Vehicles Act 2024 retains all the key features of the original Bill. However, a feature of the Bill was the extent to which it delegated practical details to secondary legislation, as yet unpublished (including the central ‘statement of safety principles’). The theme of many of the amendments debated in Parliament was this lack of explicitness in the Bill, especially as to the practicalities of accident data sharing and the detail of equality requirements.

The final substantial debate on the proposed amendments to the AV Bill was at its Third Reading in the House of Commons on 1 May 2024. Opposition parties sought the details above, to which the government responded essentially that the details have been (or, in the case of secondary legislation, will be) considered.

Another amendment to the AV Bill proposed by the Labour party sought to widen the central liability provision of AEVA 2018, via a suggested amendment to AEVA 2018 section 2 to remove the requirement to prove that the material accident occurred ‘when [the automated vehicle] was driving itself‘.’ This would have allowed direct liability under section 2 AEVA 2018 to exist when an accident was ‘caused by an authorised automated vehicle’, which under AEVA 2018 s 8 would include partial causation. This proposal was not ultimately pursued to a vote in the House of Commons.

On 8 May 2024 the House of Lords agreed the House of Commons’ remaining ‘minimal, … including minor technical’ amendments to the Bill and the government stated that,

Over the coming months, we will launch a comprehensive programme of secondary legislation, building the new regulatory framework piece by piece. This will incorporate several statutory instruments, including guidance in the form of the statement of safety principles.

While praising the arrival of the Automated Vehicles Act 2024, the opposition in the House of Commons made clear that they continue to ‘look forward to the rest of the transport legislation coming forward, …. on e-scooters, e-bikes and minimum standards for taxis …’.

There is distance yet to cover, but with the enactment of Automated Vehicles Act 2024 motor vehicle law has taken a new turn.

Alex Glassbrook & Emma Northey

Alex Glassbrook’s book, ‘Advanced, Automated and Electric Vehicle Law’ (Bloomsbury, 2024), describes the provisions of the AV Bill (now AVA 2024) in detail. Emma Northey edits

Image by Mark Taylor from Pixabay

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