The Impact of the Automated Vehicles Act on HGVs and the Logistics Industry

Jun 10, 2024

The logistics and road transport sectors in the UK are on the brink of a dramatic new era with the recent passage of the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act. This landmark legislation sets the stage for the deployment of self-driving vehicles on British roads by 2026. 

With the world moving relentlessly towards automation in every sector, understanding the implications of the AV Act for the logistics industry is of particular importance. Giving artificial intelligence control over your marketing is one thing, but handing it the keys to a 44-tonne HGV is a very different proposition – and very disconcerting when one pulls up beside you at the lights.  

In this article, we’ll look at… 

  • What the AV Act actually says 
  • What it means for road transport 
  • How this is likely to impact the logistics sector 

Understanding the Act 

The Automated Vehicles Act, which received Royal Assent on May 20, 2024, is a groundbreaking piece of legislation aimed at regulating and promoting the safe use of self-driving vehicles on UK roads. At its heart, the Act prioritises road safety, mandating that automated vehicles achieve a safety performance at least as high as that of a careful and competent human driver. This is expected to significantly reduce road accidents, 88% of which are attributed to human error. 

The Act comprehensively outlines the responsibilities of various stakeholders, including insurance providers, software developers, and automotive manufacturers. It establishes that these entities will share liability for the vehicle’s operations when it is in self-driving mode, thus offering legal clarity and protection to human drivers. This shared liability framework will be key to building trust among consumers and promoting the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles. 

Beyond this, the Act includes provisions for an independent incident investigation function. This function will support a culture of learning and continuous improvement by pursuing rigorous post-incident analysis and feedback. The approach mirrors practices in the aviation industry, which is known for its high safety standards. With the Act embedding these mechanisms into its framework, it aims to make driverless vehicles both safe and reliable, paving the way for Britain to become a global leader in the field. 

What it means for road transport in general 

Needless to say, the widespread introduction of self-driving technology will markedly transform the face of road transport across the board. Automated vehicles will maintain safe distances while driving, adhere to speed limits, and respond to traffic signals with precision. This should profoundly minimise accidents caused by typically human factors like fatigue, distraction, and general apathy.  

Furthermore, the AV Act could alleviate some of the current challenges faced by the road transport sector, such as driver shortages and the inefficiencies associated with manual driving. Self-driving vehicles are designed to operate continuously, without the need for rest breaks, potentially leading to faster and more reliable deliveries. This constant operational capability is particularly advantageous during periods of high demand, allowing for a far more resilient transport infrastructure. 

The benefits and challenges 

Along with the heightened safety and efficiency that the Act focuses on, it promises a number of other wider advantages. 

  • Economic growth 

The AV Act is projected to create over 38,000 new jobs and generate a £42 billion industry by 2035. This economic boost will position the UK as a global leader in the self-driving technology sector, encouraging substantial levels of innovation and investment. 

  • Environmental benefits 

Self-driving vehicles improve fuel efficiency through optimised driving patterns. These advancements should result in lower emissions, contributing to a smaller carbon footprint and supporting environmental sustainability goals. 

  • Heightened accessibility 

Self-driving vehicles also offer mobility solutions for individuals who can’t drive, including the elderly and the disabled. This heightened accessibility will improve access to services, reduce social isolation, and promote a greater sense of independence for these sections of the population. 

As wonderful as all this may be, driverless technology also comes with a number of distinct challenges: 

  • Infrastructure costs 

Implementing self-driving vehicles will require significant investment in road infrastructure upgrades. This includes installing advanced traffic management systems, dedicated lanes, and improved communication networks to support the safe and efficient operation of automated vehicles. 

  • Cybersecurity risks 

Increased automation also brings heightened cybersecurity concerns. One of the advantages of driving a 1994 Ford Fiesta (and admittedly, there aren’t many) is it can’t be hacked by cybercriminals. Self-driving vehicles, on the other hand, are vulnerable to these types of attacks, which could disrupt their operation and pose safety risks. Solid cybersecurity measures will be central to protecting these vehicles from malicious interference. 

The minutiae of tasks in the automated world 

The transition to AVs poses further challenges when it comes to replicating the nuanced tasks that human drivers perform daily. While AVs may be able to drive safely and efficiently, tasks like parking in tight bays, operating tail lifts, opening curtains, and securing loads require a level of dexterity and judgement that current technology struggles to fully recreate. 

Advanced sensors and AI might handle precise manoeuvres and basic mechanical tasks, but complex actions like loading, checking and securing goods demand sophisticated robotic systems and real-time adaptability. Similarly, while electronic proof-of-delivery systems can digitise signatures, seamless customer interaction for last-minute changes will require advanced AI capable of understanding and responding to dynamic situations. 

Ultimately, a hybrid model combining human oversight with automated systems is the most practical solution. Automated vehicles may well be coming, but they’re still going to need us. 

What the Act means for logistics companies 

For the logistics industry, and haulage companies in particular, the AV Act introduces both exciting opportunities as well as the need to cope with significant adjustments.  

When it comes to the positive aspects that logistics companies will experience, the benefits may likely include:  

  • Better operational safety 

Automated haulage vehicles will be equipped with advanced sensors, AI systems, and machine learning algorithms. With this tech stack at their core, AVs can maintain optimal driving conditions, continuously monitor the surroundings, and react to potential hazards far more effectively than human drivers. This will undoubtedly lead to fewer accidents, reducing injury rates and damage costs. 

  • Operational Efficiency 

One of the most significant advantages of self-driving HGVs is their ability to operate around the clock without the need for any time off. This continuous operation will lead to more efficient logistics processes, reducing delivery times and improving supply chain reliability. With automated HGVs maintaining consistent service levels even during driver shortages, they will address one of the industry’s most pressing challenges. 

  • Cost Savings 

Self-driving vehicles can utilise platooning techniques, where multiple vehicles travel in a closely coordinated convoy. Much like slipstreaming in Formula 1, the method improves aerodynamics and fuel efficiency, leading to significantly reduced costs. These fuel savings can be passed on to consumers, potentially lowering the overall price tag on goods and providing a competitive edge to logistics companies. 

  • Predictive Maintenance 

Automated goods delivery vehicles will be equipped with sophisticated diagnostic systems capable of identifying and reporting maintenance issues early. This predictive capability can prevent costly breakdowns, optimise vehicle uptime, and ensure better fleet management. By addressing issues before they escalate, companies will save on repair costs and extend the lifespan of their vehicles. 

Turning to the challenges, logistics companies will face a number of issues beyond the cybersecurity risks mentioned earlier: 

  • Regulatory hurdles 

Adapting to a vastly different regulatory landscape may be challenges for many logistics firms. New safety and insurance standards will require continuous monitoring and compliance, potentially leading to increased operational complexities and costs. 

  • Employment disruption 

The automation of driving tasks may result in job displacement for traditional drivers, posing both social and economic challenges. However, while the demand for traditional drivers may decrease, there will likely be a growing need for skilled workers to manage and maintain automated fleets. 

X2 (UK)’s perspective 

As one of the country’s leading transport and logistics solutions provider, X2 (UK) is monitoring developments in the AV field closely. “There’s no doubt that automated vehicles are the future,” says Vic Faulkner, Operations Director at X2 (UK). “The question is how disruptive the transition to a working AV infrastructure will be for logistics companies and how long and expensive that transition will be. Rapid advancements in technology require an equally rapid response… certainly, if you want to emerge as a frontrunner in a newly evolved field.”  

Facing an automated future with confidence 

From the pandemic’s global supply chain disruption to the disappearance of historic peak seasons, the logistics industry has had to learn how to cope with any number of major changes. The imminent arrival of automated vehicles will be no different.  

The AV Act is opening the doors to safer, more cost-effective, and perpetual delivery systems. The logistics companies that emerge as the new standard bearers in automated road haulage will be the ones that can respond the fastest.