Code of Practice for the Operation of Automated Off-highway Vehicles

The aim of this project is to develop a draft Code of Practice for the Operation of Automated Off-highway Vehicles, that will be relevant to all of the industries that operate automated vehicles away from the public road. The project is funded by Innovate UK and is being delivered in partnership with Oxbotica. The project was launched in October 2020 and completed in April 2021.

Published on 04 December 2020

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The Challenge

Automated vehicle technology is commonplace within some industries in the off-highway sector, which encompasses a broad range of industries, including mining, quarrying, agriculture, construction and ports and airports. Despite the widespread use of off-highway automated vehicles, there is currently no universal operational safety standard for all off-highway landscapes. Due to the wide range of use cases within the off-highway sector, there is substantial variation in the operational constraints and hazards encountered by automated vehicles. In addition, compared with on-highway, which has a highway code that can be programmed into an automated vehicle, there are no pre-defined rules for off-highway vehicles, such as speed limits or junction etiquette. The off-highway sector also has to deal with the challenge that many of the operations in this sector require automated vehicles to interact with things in the environment, either because they block the vehicle’s path (e.g. undergrowth or tree branches) or because engaging with them is part of the vehicle’s primary function (e.g. harvesting or excavating). These factors present a significant challenge for developing generic safety standards for the use of automated off-highway vehicles.

The challenge for TRL was to develop a Code of Practice for the Operation of Automated Off-highway Vehicles which is applicable to the broad range of environments in which off-highway vehicles are used and the different demands and risks of using automation in those settings. We set out to gain an understanding of the current guidelines and operating procedures in use across the range of industries that employ off-highway automated vehicles. We aimed to develop an understanding of the organisations involved in the operation of automated off-highway vehicles and the ways in which the working practices and organisational cultures in the various off-highway industries can be best engaged to ensure that safe practices are built in to the adoption of automation.

The ultimate objective of this research was to produce a draft Code of Practice for the Operation of Automated Off-highway Vehicles in the off-highway sector and pilot this code, in collaboration with Oxbotica, in a real-world setting. The aim is that this code will support safe practice, build public confidence and support the cooperation between organisations across all industries employing off-highway automated vehicles.

Our approach

In order to achieve this, TRL firstly reviewed current relevant standards and operating procedures for automated and manual workplace vehicles and reviewed existing literature to understand the different use cases, environments and risks. Stakeholder engagement was also undertaken to identify risks, current good practice and potential safety requirements. TRL then produced a draft Code of Practice for the operation of automated off-highway vehicles, pilot this in real-world trials.

The outcome

With plenty of contribution from a highly engaged stakeholder group, we have published a first draft Code of Practice for industry to use.  You can download it here or via the link at the bottom of this page.

The code was presented and discussed in detail at a well supported event, which can be reviewed here: 


In the video below, Ianto Guy explores the challenges faced by machine OEMs and site operators in creating an autonomous excavator.  Is it a 'technical problem' or a 'people problem' holding back the evolution of self-driving off-highways equipment? 


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