The UK government has confirmed that British drivers could soon no longer need to be holding the steering wheels to their cars as plans to introduce types of 'self-driving' vehicles are coming by the end of the year.
Automated Lane Keeping Systems
The Department for Transport explained that vehicles equipped with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) technology are being considered for the UK, which would allow drivers to commute—hands free—in slow moving traffic on motorways at maximum speeds of 37mph (60 kph). However, if the trial scheme is successful, the speed limit could be bumped up to 70mph.
The proposition to introduce ALKS technology onto motorways came after evidence surfaced showing that it could significantly reduce road fatalities, emissions and congestions.
Though experts stressed avoiding the use of the term 'self-driving' to describe these cars as this could have a reverse effect on drivers by rendering them overly reliant on the use of automated systems, causing more road accidents in the short term. SMMT Chief Executive, Mike Hawes explains:
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.
New driving technology that could save lives
ALKS technology would ultimately allow the vehicle of the driver to steer and manage the speed and distance of objects and vehicles ahead of it while also being able to seamlessly and safely return control to the driver within seconds in case issues arise—this is called conditional automation. Transport Minister Rachel Maclean says:
[This would be] 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.