Self-driving cars enabling drivers to take their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel could be permitted on UK motorways later this year. The Department for Transport (DfT) announced it will allow hands-free driving in vehicles with lane-keeping technology on motorways with slow traffic, at speeds of up to 37mph. It has set out how a vehicle with an automated lane keeping system (ALKS) could legally be used by a driver not paying attention, as long as there is no evidence to ‘challenge the ability’ of it to be used autonomously. ALKS enables a motorist to hand over control to their vehicle, although they must be available to resume the driving task.
It is designed to constantly monitor speed and keep a safe distance from other road users, normally through the use of cameras and sensors. The DfT describes ALKS as ‘traffic jam chauffeur technology’. In the event the system detects an ‘imminent collision risk’, it will carry out an ’emergency manoeuvre’ which could involve braking or a change of direction. The DfT claimed the technology could boost road safety as human error ‘contributes to over 85% of accidents’. A consultation has been launched on updates to the Highway Code to ensure autonomous systems are used safely and responsibly. 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.