Automated Vehicles Act 2024: revolutionising the future of transportation

read time: 7 mins

The Automated Vehicles Act 2024 received royal assent on 20 May, paving the way for self-driving vehicles to be operating on UK roads as early as 2026.

Although secondary legislation will be required to implement the act, it provides a robust regulatory framework for the operation and integration of autonomous vehicles (AVs). The act is a welcomed development for the industry as it introduces clear aims to enhance road safety and it provides clarity on issues of legal liability to ensure public confidence in self-driving technology.

This article outlines the details of the act, which includes enhancing the safety of AVs, measures and guidelines for legal liability, and enforcement strategies to address compliance issues and safety violations. The article then considers next steps and how the upcoming general election may impact timelines.

Enhancing safety

According to government statistics, human error contributes to 88% of road collisions. Through increased use of self-driving technology, the integration of AVs to UK roads is expected to significantly enhance road safety by addressing accidents caused by human mistakes such as those resulting from tiredness, drink driving and speeding. 

Nevertheless, it is entirely understandable that individuals may feel apprehensive about handing over control to a vehicle to get them from A to B. The act attempts to address these concerns with the  introduction of an authorisation process, whereby all AVs must undergo a ‘self-driving’ test to confirm that they meet particular safety standards before becoming ‘authorised’ for use. Such standards will be outlined in a Statement of Safety Principals by the secretary of state. A key aim of those principles will be to ensure that AVs 'achieve a level of safety equivalent to, or higher than, that of careful and competent human drivers'.

Clarity on legal liability

The act also sets out measures and guidelines relating to liability, so that drivers can be assured that when in self-driving mode, they will not be held responsible for how their vehicle drives. For example:

Introduction of authorised self-driving entities

The act introduces authorised self-driving entities (ASDEs), who will likely be AV manufacturers or companies who develop self-driving software. Crucially, for every authorised AV there must be a designated ASDE to carry out the following functions:

  • Certification and Testing: the ASDE will be responsible for certifying AVs, ensuring they meet stringent safety and performance standards. This includes rigorous testing protocols to verify that vehicles can operate safely under various conditions.
  • Monitoring and Compliance: the ASDE will need to continuously monitor an AVs performance. The entity will track compliance with current and emerging regulatory requirements, address any issues that arise, and ensure ongoing adherence to safety standards.

User-in-charge v non-user-in-charge

A central innovation of the act is the differentiation between 'user-in-charge' and 'no-user-in-charge' in AV operations.

A 'user-in-charge' function is engaged when a human operator takes control of driving the vehicle, for example, where the vehicle’s automated systems are unable to handle specific challenges. The user-in-charge concept ensures that while technology guides the vehicle, human oversight remains a critical component for safety and reliability. 

In contrast, a 'no-user-in-charge' function is engaged when a vehicle is operating independently without any human intervention. It should be noted that where an individual engages this function during a journey, or the vehicle is fully autonomous and has no individual travelling in it, a licensed operator will be required to oversee the journey, e.g. the manufacturer. If the vehicle is one intended to provide passenger services, it will require an automated passenger services permit for automated passenger services, or a licence under existing schemes.

If a road traffic accident is caused by an AV and the ‘no-user-in-charge’ feature is engaged at the time, subject to some exceptions, guidance indicates that liability will either lie with the licensed operator, the relevant ASDE or potentially even an insurance provider. This will also be the case if the system alerts the user to hand over or take control in an unsafe situation, defined as a 'transition demand' in the act. However, if an accident occurs whilst the user is in appropriate control and the car is not ‘self-driving’, liability will lie with the individual user, just as it would with the driver of a standard vehicle.   


The act outlines several enforcement strategies to address compliance issues and safety violations. For example:


The act affords powers to government to create a capability for regulatory investigations to be carried out by statutory inspectors when an AV is involved in a road traffic accident. This includes powers to search premises, seize vehicles and request relevant documents and information. To promote a culture of learning and continuous improvement, safety inspectors will be able make safety recommendations to those best placed to implement positive change.

The police are also granted additional powers under the act to stop, seize and detain AVs, for example, if the vehicle is suspected to be in involved in a road traffic offence, or it is behaving in a way that presents a risk of danger or inconvenience to the public.

Penalties and sanctions

In cases of non-compliance with the regulatory framework, the act enables penalties and sanctions to be imposed on the relevant entities and/or individual users. 

The act sets out an array of possible contraventions, including:  

  • A failure to comply with an information notice issued for investigatory purposes, or  providing incorrect/false information in response to such notice.  
  • Providing false safety information about an AV or withholding requested safety information. 
  • False or inappropriate marketing for the promotion or supply of an AV product or service.
  • Infringing permitting conditions

For these contraventions, civil sanctions can be imposed such as compliance notices, redress notices and monetary fines. Severe or repeated violations could lead to more stringent sanctions, including suspensions of operation licences or the revocation of certification for autonomous vehicles. In some cases, these violations could even lead to criminal liability, for example where the provision of false safety information leads to death or serious injury of an AV user.

Although the act affords some immunity to AV users involved in a road traffic incident whilst their vehicle is in self-driving mode, it also introduces the following criminal offences where individuals will remain liable:  

  • Use of a vehicle without driver or licensed oversight 
  • Dangerous use, including (1) use of an AV in a dangerous state, (2) causing death or serious injury to an individual by use of an AV in a dangerous state and (3) causing danger to other to road-users whereby the offence mentioned in (2) occurs and results in the AV committing a traffic infraction that causes death or serious injury to another person.  
  • Tampering with a self-drive function and software of an AV
  • Fitting unsuitable parts to an AV

The act amends the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to include additional provisions for the sentencing of these offences. Those sentencing provisions range from the imposition of fines and up to life imprisonment for the more serious offence of causing death or serious injury by use of an AV in a dangerous state.

Collaboration with law enforcement

ASDEs will work closely with law enforcement agencies such as the police and local authorities to address violations involving autonomous vehicles. This collaboration ensures that any legal issues, such as traffic violations or accidents, are handled efficiently and in accordance with the law.

Looking to the future 

The Automated Vehicles Act 2024 positions the UK at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle revolution. By providing a clear and comprehensive regulatory framework addressing safety and legal liability concerns, the act aims to build public trust and confidence in self-driving technology, paving the way for its widespread adoption.

The government has indicated that consultations will commence this year with the hope of secondary legislation to give effect to the act being finalised in 2025 and 2026. In light of the 4 July general election being announced, it will be interesting to see how this secondary legislation will develop over the coming months, and whether there will be any impact or delay to the goal of AVs hitting UK roads by 2026.

For more information, please contact the business risk & regulation team.

Sign up for legal insights

We produce a range of insights and publications to help keep our clients up-to-date with legal and sector developments.  

Sign up