4 min read

Rules on the safe use of automated vehicles: government consultation response

View more

By Peter Allchorne & Michael McCabe


Published 21 April 2022


In April 2021, the Department for Transport (DfT) published its consultation on proposed amendments to the Highway Code intended to support the safe incorporation of emerging self-driving technology onto the UK’s road network.

In our response to the consultation, we focused on three key points:

  1. We urged the government to define vehicles equipped with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) as being incapable of automated driving for the purposes of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEVA)
  2. We proposed amendments to DfT’s draft Highway Code changes to take into consideration the guiding safety principles behind the Code, the advice given by experts and the evidence provided on the capabilities of ALKS
  3. We pointed out that DfT’s proposed changes are insufficient, and we listed the Highway Code rules, Acts and Regulations that will need to be changed to allow for effective legal implementation of automated vehicles


Government response

In its response, DfT acknowledges that amending the Highway Code at this point is an interim measure to support the safe use of the first self-drive vehicles on the UK’s roads, and that the government needs to legislate on automated vehicles which it will do having considered the Law Commission’s report published earlier this year.

The proposed amendments to the Highway Code are also informed by consumer research commissioned by DfT, and will:

  • Use language that users will find easier to comprehend, including use of ‘self-drive’ instead of ‘automated’ – the latter being capable of being confused with a vehicle fitted with an automatic gearbox
  • Provide clarification of the differences between self-drive technologies (where the vehicle may be in control under certain circumstances and road conditions) and driver assist technologies (where the human driver remains in control of the vehicle at all times)
  • Distinguish the non-driving tasks that Users In Charge (UIC) of self-drive vehicles can and cannot engage in while the vehicle is in self-drive mode


Next steps

DfT will now lay the revised version of the Highway Code before both Houses of Parliament for forty days. After that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) will update The Highway Code online and incorporate the amendments into the next hard copy edition in the autumn.


Consumer Education

The amendments to the Highway Code will include a link to the Gov.UK website where consumers will be able to check if their vehicle is listed as being capable of ‘self-driving’ under certain conditions. It will also emphasise the need for consumers to consult the manufacturer’s specific instructions regarding the safe operation of self-drive features as these may differ from vehicle to vehicle.

DfT has also announced that it is exploring options to provide further clarity to drivers on rules for the use of self-drive vehicles. It has also established a driver education working group to develop solutions for communicating driver responsibilities and rules for safe use of self-drive vehicles. We strongly support both in the interests of consumer education and safety.



The proposed changes to the Highway Code are much improved over the wording contained in the previous consultation draft. We welcome the changes that reflect the points we made most strongly in our response, especially the removal of the sentence informing users of self-drive vehicles that they do not need to pay attention to the road when the vehicle is driving itself.

We are, however, less encouraged by the fact that DfT restated once more that ALKS-equipped vehicles are likely to be listed as automated under AEVA. We consider that ALKS still does not demonstrate the technological advancement required to classify it as capable of safe self-drive because it relies upon a combination of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). As a result, it should in our view be classified as advanced driver assist. A rush to define ALKS as self-drive for the purposes of AEVA runs numerous risks if not conducted responsibly. If untested and inadequately prepared systems are allowed to cause or make worse accidents, this will inevitably cause sectors of the media to question the safety of self-drive systems. This, in turn, risks undermining consumer confidence and setting mass scale adoption of the technology back years, rat>her than advancing it.

We will continue to keep abreast of this topic as well as all other relevant emerging transport technologies.