A self-driving car being demonstrated (Philip Toscano,PA)A self-driving car being demonstrated (Philip Toscano,PA)

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SMMT urges legislation on self-driving cars before next election to keep UK ahead of EU and US

  • Auto sector calls for swift passing of Automated Vehicles Bill for long-term benefits
  • Tech could save extra 3,200 lives and prevent 53,000 serious accidents by 2040, says SMMT
  • It could also see £38bn economic boost

Time 7:27 am, March 17, 2024

The SMMT has warned that the roll-out of self-driving cars on UK roads will be delayed by some four years unless legislation is passed before the next general election.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the automotive trade body, said the UK could ‘ill afford’ a hold-up in the technology.

The Automated Vehicles Bill to create laws for using autonomous vehicles was introduced into Parliament in November and will undergo further scrutiny at committee stage from Tuesday (Mar 19).


According to the SMMT, the tech, which reduces the risk of human error, could save another 3,200 lives and prevent 53,000 serious accidents between now and 2040, with a £38bn economic boost for the taking as well – but only if the Bill is enacted without delay.

Speaking at the SMMT Connected 2024 conference in Westminster, Hawes said: ‘Even if the current timetable is met, following the Bill’s second reading in the House of Commons in early March, we are unlikely to see self-driving vehicles on British roads until at least 2026.

‘But should the legislation be delayed until after the general election, that date is likely to be nearer to 2030, putting the UK at a significant disadvantage.


‘Rival markets in the EU and US already have regulatory frameworks in place and have captured the lead, deploying the tech on public roads now – thus making the need for our own legislation even more urgent.’

The latest date when the general election can take place is January 28 next year, but there is speculation it could happen as early as May.

Exclusive YouGov research commissioned by the SMMT found that nearly a third of adults (29%) would use an automated bus, shuttle or taxi service if available today, with one in four (26%) likely to try self-driving features in a personal car – even though they’ve yet to experience the technology.

The poll of 2,089 adults also found that young people are even keener, with 34% of Generation Z (18-to-27-year-olds) likely to try a personal car with self-driving features – almost twice as many as Baby Boomers (60-to-78-year-olds) at 18%.

Reduced stress of driving, safer journeys and potentially lower insurance costs were listed as the top three benefits of a self-driving car.

For self-driving passenger services such as a bus, shuttle or taxi, consumers were most motivated by the prospect of lower fares, better availability in rural areas and safer journeys.

Transport secretary Mark Harper told the SMMT event that self-driving cars will ‘usher in a transport revolution’, bringing ‘safer, more convenient and more accessible travel to more people’.

He added: ‘That revolution needs innovative technology, which British companies are now designing.

‘That, I think, is the big opportunity of the prize for everyone here – a real opportunity to make Britain a place where this technology is designed, exported and sold around the world.


‘It needs robust legal frameworks, which British lawyers are now writing, and world-leading safety regulation, which just last week British MPs across the road were debating.

‘Once again, this great industry is adapting and innovating for the future, and British leadership is at the wheel.’

Harper said the ‘greatest impact’ of self-driving cars will be on road safety as ‘they’re not going to drink and drive, they don’t speed, they don’t get frustrated, they don’t get tired and they don’t ignore the rules of the road.

‘We should try and find the opportunity for as many people as possible to see it in practice. I think actually that will go a long way to persuading people who are sceptical.’

Main image credit: Philip Toscano/PA

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.



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