UK govt gives green light to 'self-driving' cars
The UK government has announced that self-driving vehicles could be on British roads for the first time later this year, following the introduction of automated lane keeping system (ALKS) technology. Following a landmark call for evidence, the government has set out how vehicles fitted with ALKS technology could legally be defined as self-driving, as long as they receive GB type approval, with 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 safely return control to the drive when required. The technology could improve road safety by reducing human error. 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.
The announcement from the Department for Transport comes as a consultation on The Highway Code rules is launched, to ensure the first wave of this technology is used safely and responsibly. The 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.
“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,” Maclean said.
Self-driving technology in cars, buses and delivery vehicles could help reduce urban congestion, with traffic lights and vehicles speaking to each other to keep traffic flowing, reducing emissions and improving air quality in towns and cities.
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.
Autonomous vehicle technology could create approximately 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 predicts that technologies such as automated lane keeping systems will pave the way for higher levels of automation in future.
“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 3900 lives over the next decade through their ability to reduce the single largest cause of road accidents — human error,” Hawes said.
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