Smart Transport

Autonomous vehicle use moves closer

Semi-autonomous car

The first ‘self-driving cars’ could be ready for use on UK roads later this year.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is making changes to The Highway Code in response to public consultation to clarify a driver’s responsibility to help ensure the first wave of technology will be used safely.

The changes will explain clearly that while travelling in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to take back control when prompted to, such as when they approach motorway exits.

Transport minister Trudy Harrison said: “This is a major milestone in our safe introduction of self-driving vehicles, which will revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys greener, safer and more reliable.  

“This exciting technology is developing at pace right here in Great Britain and we’re ensuring we have strong foundations in place for drivers when it takes to our roads. In doing so, we can help improve travel for all while boosting economic growth across the nation and securing Britain’s place as a global science superpower.”   

The plans also include a change to current regulation, allowing drivers to view content which is not related to driving on built-in display screens, while the self-driving vehicle is in control. It will still be illegal to use mobile phones in self-driving mode.

The Government said that with self-driving technology rapidly developing across the globe, Britain’s first vehicles approved for self-driving could be ready for use later this year. Vehicles will only be approved as self-driving when they have met stringent standards. 

The DfT says it will work with industry, regulators and safety organisations to ensure drivers can access information, including online, to help them use the vehicles safely.

The measures confirmed today follow a public consultation launched by the Government, which found the majority of respondents were broadly supportive of the proposed changes to the Highway Code to clarify drivers’ responsibilities in self-driving vehicles. 

The introduction of the technology is likely to begin with vehicles travelling at slow speeds on motorways, such as in congested traffic.

Following a landmark Call for Evidence, the Government announced in April last year that vehicles fitted with Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) technology could be the first example of self-driving technology. Existing technology available on the market is ‘assistive,’ meaning drivers must currently always remain in control and responsible.  

Designed for use on a motorway in slow traffic, ALKS enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, up to 37mph, while maintaining the ability to return control easily and safely to the driver when required.   

A full regulatory framework is expected to be in place to support the widespread deployment of the technology by 2025.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “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. "

And Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, commented: “The technology could be available in the UK later this year and, with the right regulations in place, consumers are set to benefit from safer, more efficient journeys while the UK will strengthen its position as a global leader in the deployment of self-driving technology.”

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