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Autonomous Vehicles

The UK Might Allow “Self-Driving” Cars On The Roads This Year

There’s a chance that self-driving vehicles will be allowed on the roads in the UK by the end of this year, the BBC reports. Automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) would be the first type of hands-free driving that is legalized, said the Department for Transport. This technology controls the position and speed of a car in a single lane. The law will limit it to 37 miles per hour. Insurers have a warning, though, and point out that the government’s definition of ALKS as “self-driving” is misleading.

Legal Self-Driving

After a consultation last year, the UK government said that vehicles with ALKS technology can be legally defined as self-driving, “as long as they receive GB type approval and that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.”

Photo by Zach Shahan/CleanTechnica.

The government has even confirmed that drivers don’t have to monitor the road or even keep their hands on the wheel when the vehicle is driving itself. However, the driver does need to stay alert and be ready to take over when the system requests — and do so within 10 seconds. If a driver fails to respond, the vehicle will automatically put on its hazard lights to warn nearby vehicles to slow down and plan to stop.

Currently, the Highway Code is focusing on creating the rules that will be put into new laws to ensure that the new technology is used in a safe manner. 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.”

She also added, “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.”

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) pointed out that the technology could improve road safety by reducing human error. The company’s chief executive, Mike Haws, shared his thoughts: “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.”

He also pointed out, “Technologies such as Automated Lane Keeping Systems 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.”

Thatcham Research noted that there needs to be more caution over defining ALKS as “self-driving.” The company currently conducts safety tests for motor insurers. Its director, Matthew Avery, had some thoughts to add. “ALKS as currently proposed by the government are not automated,” said Avery. “They are assisted driving systems, as they rely on the driver to take back control.

“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.

“Consumers will expect the car to do the job of a driver, which current models can’t do.”

It’s unclear what data source Avery is using when referring to “many tragic deaths.”

ALKS Is Not Autopilot But Can Learn From It

The article noted that ALKS includes Tesla’s Autopilot when using Lane Keeping, but it’s still just considered “level two” autonomous driving (including by Tesla) on the five defined levels of self-driving cars. ALKS is included in the next step — level three, which doesn’t need the driver’s attention at all times and would allow for the driver to do other things, such as watching a movie or checking their email — until the car prompts them to take over.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E also has similar lane keeping technology, and some GM models have Super Cruise, which is again similar.

With the systems from all of these different models and automakers, the important thing to remember is that just because they are very good at keeping you in the lane and at the right speed, they also make plenty of mistakes and can’t handle many circumstances, so drivers need to remain vigilant.

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