UK government announces ‘self-driving’ cars could be allowed on motorways in 2021

by | Apr 28, 2021

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Self-driving cars could be seen on British motorways later in 2021 announced the UK government on Wednesday.
Drivers could soon be allowed to take their focus off the road via the car’s built-in screen during periods of slow-moving traffic, using automated lane-keeping system (Alks) technology that makes the car stay in lane and a safe distance from other vehicles.

The cars are not yet described as autonomous and will be defined as self-driving when the system is in operation, at a maximum speed of 37mph.

The system they use is currently only allowed on motorways where traffic flows in the same direction and no pedestrians or cyclists are permitted. Nevertheless, according to the Department for Transport, the technology could eventually improve road safety by reducing human error.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean said it was a “major step for the safe use of self-driving vehicles in the UK, making future journeys greener, easier and more reliable.

“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.”

Matthew Avery, director of research at the insurer-funded Thatcham Research, warned that there is still a long way to go in terms of legislation and the industry before any vehicle can be classed as automated and allowed safely on the roads.

According to the Guardian, he said Alks should not be called automated as the driver is still needed to be ready to take control. “Our concern 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.”

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said the government’s announcement was a vital step forward.

The SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “Technologies such as Alks will pave the way for higher levels of automation in future – and these advances will unleash Britain’s potential to be a world leader in the development and use of these technologies, creating essential jobs while ensuring our roads remain among the safest on the planet.”

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