UK gov to allow self-driving cars on motorways this year

Automated Lane Keeping Systems to be legally defined as 'self-driving' as a cautious first step to allowing fully autonomous cars on UK roads

The Department for Transport (DfT) has called for 'Automated Lane Keeping Systems' (ALKS) to be legally defined as 'self-driving' as a cautious first step to allowing fully autonomous cars on UK roads.

The announcement follows the government's call for evidence on self-driving technology at the end of 2020 where it sought views from the motoring industry around the role of the driver in an automated system and what legislation would be needed. 

ALKS are designed for use on motorways in slow traffic, in a single lane. They can be used to maintain a safe distance from other cars and control can be easily returned to the driver if need be. The DfT has proposed a maximum speed limit of 37mph. 

The technology has the potential to improve road safety by reducing human error, which is said to contribute to 85% of accidents, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The organisation suggests 3,900 lives could be saved over the next decade with the use of automated driving tech. 

"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," SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes, said.

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The announcement appears very cautious, particularly compared to other countries, such as the US, where automated systems are already allowed. Indeed, the initial reporting of the 'call for evidence' suggested that self-driving cars could be on UK roads by the spring, but that has now been pushed back to the autumn. 

However, the announcement has come just weeks after an investigation was launched into a Tesla car that crashed with its autopilot reportedly engaged. The initial police report from the incident suggested that neither of the two men in the vehicle was in the driver's seat, leading them to believe that its automated system was at fault.

This has been disputed by Tesla, which claims to have data suggesting the autopilot wasn't engaged and that one of the men was in the driver's seat. 

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