Self-driving cars, which allow drivers to take their eyes off the road and take their hands off the steering wheel, could be driving on UK motorways later this year after the government clears their use.
The Ministry of Transport (DfT) has announced that it will enable hands-free calling in vehicles with lane-keeping technology on motorways with slow traffic and speeds of up to 60 km / h.
It has been shown how a vehicle with an Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) can legally be used by a driver who is not paying attention – but only if there is no evidence to “question” the ability to use autonomously.
ALKS gives a driver the option of handing over control to his vehicle, although he must be available to resume driving if necessary.
It is designed to continuously monitor speed and keep a safe distance from other road users, usually with the help of cameras and sensors.
The DfT describes ALKS as “traffic jam chauffeur technology”.
When the system detects an “imminent risk of collision”, it performs an “emergency maneuver” that could involve braking or changing direction, say the people behind the technology.
The DfT claimed that it could increase road safety as human error “contributes to over 85% of accidents”.
A consultation has been launched on updates to the Highway Code to ensure that autonomous systems are used safely and responsibly.
Transport Secretary Rachel Maclean said: “This is an important step in the safe use of self-driving vehicles in the UK, making future journeys greener, easier and more reliable, while also helping the nation better rebuild.
“However, we need to make sure that this exciting new technology is used safely. That is why we advise how the rules should look like.
“In this way we can improve traffic for everyone and secure Britain’s place as a global science superpower.”
Jim Holder, editor-in-chief of the magazine and the What Car? Website, said the new policy is a “sensible first step” towards autonomous driving.
“These are very, very controlled circumstances, low speed, relatively straight roads, clear road markings,” he told the PA news agency.
“In theory, this should be a very effective way to use the technology effectively.”
He said the UK is in “global competition” to develop the technology.
The announcement “puts us back in the race” as the UK is “a bit behind” the US and China, Holder said.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said people are “always the weak link” when it comes to safe driving, but he cautioned that there are “challenges” when traveling is a change of control between technology and the person behind the wheel include.
“There is a risk of situations where drivers rely too much on the automated system and expect it to handle events for which it is neither designed nor able.
“And what happens if the drivers are expected to regain control in an emergency? Research has shown that it can take a few seconds for the driver to regain command of his vehicle. “
Mike Hawes, General Manager of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said, “Technologies like automated lane keeping systems will pave the way for higher levels of automation in the future.
“These advances will unlock the UK’s potential to be a world leader in the development and use of these technologies, creating vital jobs while ensuring that our roads are some of the safest on the planet.”