UK opens door for self-driving vehicles as early as this year


Britain is set to allow self-driving vehicles with a possibility the first driver-assist models might be on roads by the end of the year, the government said today.

Alongside a call for evidence about self-driving systems, the Department of Transport said it was working on changes to the Highway Code to enable the use of vehicles equipped with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) – a system of sensors and software that keep a vehicle within a lane, accelerate and brake without a driver.

Speeds will be limited to 37mph initially, said the DoT.

Motor manufacturers welcomed it as a step forward but insurers reacted with caution saying the technology was not proven.

Using the ALKS system might lead to confusion about the need for a driver added Matthew Avery, research director at Thatcham Research, which has analysed ALKS.

“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,” he told Reuters.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders disagreed and argued that the use of automated systems might reduce human error by drivers.

“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,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.

Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) already uses a system similar to ALKS known as Autopilot and it has been embroiled in controversy after a series of accidents.

Only last week, two people were reported killed in Texas after a Tesla S, which is fitted with Autopilot, careered off the road with no one at the wheel according to local police.

The US’s National Highway Traffic Safety Board said in March it had 27 investigations underway into crashes involving Tesla vehicles.

Tesla has stressed that Autopilot is not an autonomous-driving program and drivers must be ready to take control of the vehicle at any time.

On its website, it said: “Autopilot and full self-driving capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment,” noting that even with these features “no Tesla cars are fully autonomous today”.

CEO Elon Musk added that data on its cars fitted with AutropIlot indicated there was a 10 times lower chance of an accident than average.

In a statement with the announcement, UK 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.”


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