One step closer to 'self-driving' vehicles on UK roads by the end of the year
Motorists could see self-driving vehicles on British roads for the first time later this year, the Department for Transport (DfT) has announced.
In 2020 there was a lot of talk about ‘self-driving’ vehicles coming to the UK’s roads and now that vision is a little closer with the Government’s call for evidence as it sets out how vehicles fitted with automated lane keeping system (ALKS) technology could legally be defined as 'self-driving' if they receive GB type approval and that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.
Several vehicles are equipped with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping systems that allow them to technically drive themselves in certain situations, but current legislation states that the driver must always remain in control.
If the new laws are approved, drivers would no longer have to keep their hands on the wheel while the system was active.
The Government said ALKS is an example of 'self-driving' technology and will be limited to speeds of up to 37mph on motorways. The technology enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, while maintaining the ability to return control to the driver when required.
According to the DfT, the technology could help improve road safety by reducing human error, which contributes to over 85% of accidents. The driver will be able to hand control over to the vehicle, which will constantly monitor speed and keep a safe distance from other cars.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) chief executive, Mike Hawes, said the automotive industry welcomed the technology.
"The automotive industry welcomes this vital step to permit the use of automated vehicles on UK roads, which will put Britain in the vanguard of road safety and automotive technology. Automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade through their ability to reduce the single largest cause of road accidents – human error."
However, Thatcham Research and The AA have highlighted safety concerns with automated vehicles.
Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, said: “Aside from the lack of technical capabilities, by calling ALKS ‘automated’ our concern also is that the UK Government is contributing to the confusion and frequent misuse of assisted driving systems that have unfortunately already led to many tragic deaths.”
Edmund King, AA president, said: “Automated lane keeping systems should be classified as ‘Assisted Driving’ technology and is a world away from ‘self-driving’.
“Without doubt vehicle safety technology can save lives, but we shouldn’t be in a race to take drivers’ hands off the wheel.
“There are still gaps in how this technology detects and stops if the vehicle is involved in a collision. There are still question marks over how drivers will be fully informed how these systems work. More needs to be done to rigorously test these systems before they are used on UK roads.”
The announcement comes as a consultation on The Highway Code rules is launched to ensure the first wave of this technology is used safely and responsibly. This consultation will conclude on 28 May 2021.
Recommendations for autonomous vehicle (AV) laws are set to be published by the Law Commission before the end of the year.
According to the DfT, connected and autonomous vehicle technology could create around 38,000 new jobs in a UK industry that could be worth £42 billion by 2035. Over 80% of these jobs are expected to be in professional, technical, and skilled trade occupations.