Motorists could see self-driving vehicles on British roads for the first time later this year.
The Department for Transport said automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) would be the first type of hands-free driving legalised.
Designed for use on a motorway in slow traffic, ALKS enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, while maintaining the ability to easily and safely return control to the driver when required.
Following a call for evidence, the Department for Transport has said vehicles fitted with Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) technology could legally be defined as self-driving, as long as they receive GB type approval and that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.
The technology could 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.
Transport minister Rachel Maclean said: “This is a major step for the safe use of self-driving vehicles in the UK, making future journeys greener, easier and more reliable while also helping the nation to build back better.
“But we must ensure that this exciting new tech is deployed safely, which is why we are consulting on what the rules to enable this should look like. In doing so, we can improve transport for all, securing the UK’s place as a global science superpower.
“Self-driving technology in cars, buses and delivery vehicles could spark the beginning of the end of urban congestion, with traffic lights and vehicles speaking to each other to keep traffic flowing, reducing emissions and improving air quality in our towns and cities.
“Not only are automated vehicles expected to improve road safety, the technology could also improve access to transport for people with mobility issues and lead to more reliable public transport services, helping to level-up access to transport in historically disconnected and rural areas.
“As we build back better, 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.”
Hojol Uddin, head of motoring and partner at JMW Solicitors, said: “Cars already have some driverless technology which has assisted a lot of drivers to avoid accidents such as collision assist, cameras, lane assist, driver alert (when tired) and so on. It will take some time for people to adapt but it is definitely a positive step forward in safer driving. However, it is also likely to attract cyber criminals, so security of driverless vehicles is paramount.
“It is likely that insurers will dedicate specific exclusions for their policies once the first phase of vehicles are being tested and they see what occurs with these transition demands. I wouldn’t be surprised if insurers themselves adapt technology alongside manufacturers to monitor what a driver is doing or not in driverless cars, for the purposes of liability and cover.
“The Highway Code will have to be changed entirely to determine the relevance of certain rules. For example will the driver really need to know stopping distances and times if the computer is going to do the thinking for you as well as the stopping. In addition, will it be necessary for mirror signal manoeuvre being drilled into every student when cars of the future will do this for you. Most of the Highway Code will be redundant, as cars will be able to read signs and everything else we were taught to do.”
“The whole legal framework will need to be changed to take driverless cars into consideration. The Law Commission is currently in its last consultation phase. This takes into consideration every scenario relating to autonomous vehicles and developing an Automated Driving System (ADS – a system within a vehicle not the vehicle itself).”
Ian McIntosh, CEO of RED Driving School, said: “We support the Government’s appetite for change and innovation to transportation. We sit on the pan-European research project PAsCAL investigating the acceptability of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). New technology is being introduced, and it is vitally important that new and existing drivers are fully trained on these systems.
“Today’s news is predominantly about Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKs), which are potentially the first in a series of Government approved systems to perform some driving tasks under certain conditions on UK roads. But let’s be clear, this is not ‘self-driving vehicle’ technology, and we think that parts of the consultation to change the Highway Code are premature and ill thought through.
“We were particularly concerned about the proposed new section of the Highway Code which states ‘While an automated vehicle is driving itself, you are not responsible for how it drives, and you do not need to pay attention to the road’ which we see as confusing and potentially dangerous, as the driver must always be fully accountable. The fact that even at the consultation stage the removal of this basic concept has been mooted suggests that the Government has got too far ahead of itself, the technology and the UK driving community on this.
“The fact of the matter is that fully automated and driverless vehicles are still some way off, and in the meantime we need to make sure that drivers understand the responsibility to themselves and other road users in that they must remain in control of their vehicle at all times and not be distracted.”