By 2026, self-driving cars will likely be navigating UK roadways. This is largely thanks to the Automated Vehicles Act (the “AVA”), pioneering new legislation that passed through Parliament on 20 May 2024 and that introduces a new legal framework for the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles in the UK (although notably, it does not apply to Northern Ireland). 

After long regulatory reviews and consultation processes, the AVA passed through Parliament relatively uncontroversially, the smooth passage signalling consensus around the UK’s desire to be a location of choice for manufacturers and automotive companies to develop, test and sell automated vehicle technology. In fact, the UK government released communications stating that “the new law puts Great Britain firmly at the forefront of self-driving technology regulation, unlocking the potential of an industry to be worth up to £42 billion”. 

So, what are the key things to know about the AVA? 


The AVA introduces an authorisation regime, such that a road vehicle can only be used as an AV if it is authorised for such use. To be authorised, the vehicle must: (i) pass a self-driving test; and (ii) meet applicable authorisation requirements (these requirements are to be introduced by regulations). 

The self-driving test will determine whether the vehicle can drive: 

  • autonomously, meaning that it is controlled solely by its equipment with no individual monitoring the vehicle or its surroundings with a view to intervene; 
  • safely, meaning that the vehicle travels to an acceptable safe standard; and 
  • legally, meaning the vehicle travels with an acceptably low risk of committing a traffic incident. 

The assessment will differ depending on the location and circumstances of the intended travel and will have regard to a “Statement of Safety Principles”. This is a document to be prepared by the Government that will detail the requirements for an AV to drive autonomously and safely, with the purpose of securing “a level of safety equivalent to, or higher than, that of careful and competent human drivers”.  

A public register of authorisations will be maintained, and authorisations may be retracted, varied or suspended if the authorisation requirements and conditions are not adequately maintained. 

Authorisation features

The authorisation of an AV must specify whether the AV operates with a ‘user in charge’ (UiC) feature and/or a ‘no user in charge’ (NUiC) feature and describe how those features are engaged and disengaged. 

  • a UiC feature is engaged when a human driver takes control of driving the AV for all or part of a journey. 
  • a NUiC feature is engaged when a vehicle operates independently without any intervention from the individual human operator. 

Where a vehicle has both features, the vehicle may issue a “transition demand” which is a notification requiring the individual to take over the driving of the vehicle within a particular timeframe. 

ASDEs and Licensed Operators

The AVA provides that each authorised AV must have a designated “Authorised Self Driving Entity” (ASDE). The government will introduce authorisation requirements relating to the ASDE; those requirements will have the objectives of ensuring that the ASDE has general responsibility for ensuring that an authorised AV continues to satisfy the self-driving test and that the ASDE is of good repute, good financial standing, and capable of carrying out the authorisation requirements. The ASDE will be ultimately responsible for ensuring that the AV is compliant with all relevant rules and regulations. It’ll most likely be the car manufacturer or the software supplier rather than the individual human operator.

Where the AV is driving completely autonomously, a licensed operator will be required to oversee the journey. The operator’s role is to ensure the safe operation of the vehicle and will, for example, be responsible for detecting and resolving issues during the journey. The licensed operator might be the same or a different entity as the ASDE. 


The AVA provides some clarity around issues of legal liability for road traffic incidents that involve AVs. 

  • Immunity for drivers: The Act provides immunity from liability for drivers when automated vehicle features are engaged (when the car is in NUiC mode). In these circumstances, liability will generally sit with the ASDE, but may in certain circumstances sit with the licensed operator or potentially even an insurance provider. However, there is scope for NUiC operators to be liable on occasions (e.g. where the vehicle issues a transition demand and the transition period has ended). Unsurprisingly, where the car is in UiC mode, the human driver will be liable for incidents as usual.
  • Insurers’ liability: Civil liability to other road users will in the first instance be met by insurers under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. Those insurers will recover any amounts paid out from the party in the liability chain that is responsible for any fault that caused or contributed to the incident.

Information gathering and investigations

To ensure safety and transparency, the AVA introduces a framework for collecting information relating to automated vehicles from ASDEs and licensed operators and requires a nominated individual to be responsible for the provision of such information. The information may be shared with public authorities, manufacturers and insurers for the purpose of assessing legislative compliance and investigating issues. Failure to comply with the information provision obligations in the AVA is a criminal offence. 

The AVA also requires the government to introduce arrangements for the general monitoring of AVs. As part of this, the Secretary of State is permitted to appoint automated vehicle incident inspectors to investigate incidents involving AVs. These inspectors will be given powers to compel information, search premises and compel an individual to attend an interview.  The AVA introduces new corporate offences for obstructing such investigations, including criminal liability for named individuals and senior management.

The AV also grants the police the powers to stop, seize and detain AVs e.g., if the AV is behaving in a way that presents a risk of danger. 

Advertising and marketing

The AVA introduces specific offences with respect to the advertising and marketing of self-driving cars. 

  • Use of restricted terms for road vehicles and vehicle equipment: The AVA introduces certain “restricted” words, expressions and symbols that can only be used in relation to an “authorised” AV. This list will be published by the government and updated regularly to incorporate other terms that may become commonly used to describe automated vehicles. 
  • Communications likely to confuse: Using communications that are likely to confuse consumers about whether or not a vehicle is an “authorised” AV will result in an offence under the AVA. 

The offences can result in fines, imprisonment and in case of serious breaches, criminal liability for corporate officers.

Final thoughts

The AVA is an exciting step forward for automotive technology in the UK. There is, of course, a way to go yet – almost all of its provisions need to be brought into force by secondary legislation. The previous government stated its intention to consult through to 2025 with the regulations being laid in 2025 to 2026; it remains to be seen how the change in government might impact what is already a tight timetable.

It will also be interesting to see how the supply chain adapts to accommodate the liability imposed on the ASDE, and whether this results in the consumer picking up the tab. Electric vehicle sales have stalled slightly in recent years, due partly to the cost/benefit not stacking up (as well as charging infrastructure concerns). Assuming most AV technology is going to be incorporated into electric vehicles, the ASDE categorisation might present another cost hurdle to the sale of electric vehicles, but no doubt this challenge can be overcome in the longer term as the tipping point to electric cars is reached. 

If you have any questions about the AVA, please get in touch with a member of our team.