Government paves the way for self-driving vehicles on UK roads
Updated: May 11
Motorists could see self-driving vehicles on British roads for the first time later this year, the Department for Transport has announced today (28 April 2021).
Following a landmark call for evidence, the government 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 that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.
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 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 28 May 2021.
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.
SMMT Chief Executive, Mike Hawes, said: 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. 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.
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.
The UK is already a world leader in connected and self-driving vehicle innovation, and British companies are working on and developing the next generations of automated vehicles.
Edmund King, AA president, said: “Automated Lane Keeping systems should be classified as ‘Assisted Driving’ technology and is a world away from ‘self-driving’.
“Without doubt vehicle safety technology can save lives, but we shouldn’t be in race to take drivers’ hands off the wheel.
“There are still gaps in how this technology detects and stops if the vehicle is involved in a collision. There are still question marks over how drivers will be fully informed how these systems work. More needs to be done to rigorously test these systems before they are used on UK roads.”
Responding to the UK Government’s announcement today (28 April 2021) around paving the way for Automated Driving, Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) are urging caution.
“There is still a lot of work needed though by both legislators and the automotive industry before any vehicle can be classed as automated and allowed safely on to the UK roads,” comments Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research.
“Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) as currently proposed by the Government are not automated. They are assisted driving systems as they rely on the driver to take back control.
“Aside from the lack of technical capabilities, by calling ALKS automated our concern also 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.
“A widespread and effective ongoing communications campaign led by the automotive industry and supported by insurers and safety organisations is essential if we are going to address current and future misconceptions and misuse.”
Thatcham Research and the ABI believe there are four non-negotiable criteria that need to be met before ALKS can be classified as automated:
The vehicle must have the capability, and be allowed through legislation, to safely change lanes to avoid an incident
The vehicle must have the capability to find a “safe harbour” at the side of the road and not stop in a “live” lane
The systems on the vehicle must be able to recognise UK road signs and this needs to be assured by an independent organisation
Data must be made available remotely through a neutral server for any incident to verify who was “in charge” at the time of the incident – the driver or the vehicle.
“We have engaged closely with the UK Government around their Call for Evidence on ALKS,” continues Matthew Avery, “and look forward to ensuring that future technologies such as ALKS can be adopted safely to reduce road casualties.”
Mark Shepherd, Assistant Director, Head of General Insurance Policy, Association of British Insurers, said: “While the insurance industry fully supports the development towards more automated vehicles, drivers must not be given unrealistic expectations about a system’s capability. It is vital that Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS), which rely on the driver to take back control, are not classed as automated, but as assisted systems. By keeping this distinction clear we can help ensure that the rules around ALKS are appropriate and put driver and passenger safety first.
“Thatcham Research has identified some concerning scenarios where ALKS may not operate safely without the driver intervening. These need to be addressed in the consultation.”