Self-driving cars could be allowed on motorways from 2021

Government consultation asks for evidence on how drivers should use automated lane keeping system that effectively drives a car...

Government to consult public on self-driving cars

The Government has launched a consultation on the regulations that should be in place when drivers use a new safety system that will be able to take over the driving of the car at low speeds in motorway traffic jams. 

Once it’s switched on the automated lane keeping system (ALKS) takes over the steering to keep the vehicle in its lane until the driver takes back control. It can work with a car’s adaptive cruise control system, which will also slow the car down to keep it a safe distance from the car in front. 

Although the driver must be ready to resume control when the ALKS is activated, they don’t have to have their hands on the steering wheel, so they could send text messages or watch videos while the car drives itself. 

Volkswagen Golf autonomous driving

The Government is seeking the views of those in the car industry and road safety organisations so that it can decide on the role of the driver and what rules need to be in place while a driver is using the system. The decision on whether the driver needs to be in control of the car, or if the car is driving itself will determine who would be to blame in the event of an accident. It’s likely that the driver will not be culpable for an accident once the system has been turned on, but they will be liable the moment it’s switched off or they override it. 

If the regulations for using the new technology are approved, it could be available on new cars sold in the UK from spring 2021. 

The consultation is the first step towards legalising the use of ALKS in the UK; it follows the approval of the ALKS Regulation in June 2020 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), of which the UK is a member. 

Those in the industry believe ALKS will play a significant role in improving road safety.

Thatcham autonomous driving

AA president, Edmund King, said: “Over the last 50 years, leading edge in-car technology from seat belts to airbags and ABS has helped to save thousands of lives. The Government is right to be consulting on the latest collision-avoidance system, which has the potential to make our roads even safer in the future.”

And Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Automated technologies for vehicles, of which automated lane keeping is the latest, will be life-changing, making our journeys safer and smoother than ever before and helping prevent some 47,000 serious accidents and save 3900 lives over the next decade.”

Responses gathered from this initial consultation will be used in a public consultation, due to be carried out towards the end of 2020, on the detail of any changes to legislation and The Highway Code that are being proposed to regulate the use of the new technology.

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Next: What's it like to 'drive' an autonomous car? >> 

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