Following a landmark call for evidence, the UK’s Department for Transport has moved closer to regulating the use of self-driving vehicles at low speeds on motorways. The department has set out how 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 there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive. Many commentators view the development as a first step toward legalizing self-driving vehicles on UK roads.
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. The department views ALKS as a first example of ‘self-driving’ technology, and will be limited to speeds of up to 37mph on motorways.
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.
Today’s 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 May 28, 2021.
“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,” said Transport Minister Rachel Maclean. “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.”
The department estimates connected and autonomous vehicle technology could create around 38,000 new jobs in a UK industry that could be worth £42bn (US$58bn) by 2035. Over 80% of these jobs are expected to be in professional, technical and skilled trade occupations.
“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,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “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,” he continued.
“Technologies such as automated lane keeping systems 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.”
Japan has already given the green light to similar ALKS technology, currently installed as part of Honda’s Sensing Elite ADAS platform, revising its Road Vehicle Act to reflect the changes back in April 2020.