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Government launches consultation to introduce autonomous driving tech

Autonomous vehicles: changing the public attitude

The Government has launched a consultation that could lead to the introduction of cars with Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities by next year.

The Call for Evidence will look at the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) –  an automated system which can control the steering, brakes and acceleration of the vehicle (currently at low speeds of up to 37mph), keeping it in lane.

This technology is designed to enable drivers – for the first time ever – to delegate the task of driving to the vehicle in certain situations, such as traffic jams.

Audi developed the technology for its A8 model, as 'Traffic Jam Pilot', and planned to introduce it once legislation allowed, but has since confirmed that it won't be offered on the current model.

When activated, the system keeps the vehicle within its lane, controlling its movements for extended periods of time without the driver needing to do anything. The driver must be ready and able to resume driving control when prompted by the vehicle, however.

The Government is seeking views from industry on the role of the driver and proposed rules on the use of this system to pave the way towards introducing it safely in Great Britain, within the current legal framework.

The Call for Evidence will ask whether vehicles using this technology should be legally defined as an automated vehicle, which would mean the technology provider would be responsible for the safety of the vehicle when the system is engaged, rather than the driver.

It also seeks views on Government proposals to allow the safe use of this system on British roads at speeds of up to 70mph, where technology allows.

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said: “Automated technology could make driving safer, smoother and easier for motorists and the UK should be the first country to see these benefits, attracting manufacturers to develop and test new technologies.

“The UK’s work in this area is world leading and the results from this Call for Evidence could be a significant step forward for this exciting technology.”

Following the approval of ALKS Regulation in June 2020 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) - of which the UK is a member – the technology is likely to be available in cars entering the UK market from Spring 2021.

The Government is acting now to ensure that regulation is ready where necessary for its introduction.

Edmund King, AA president, added: “Over the last fifty years leading edge in-car technology from seat belts to airbags and ABS has helped to save thousands of lives.

“The Government is right to be consulting on the latest collision-avoidance system which has the potential to make our roads even safer in the future."

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: "Automated technologies for vehicles, of which automated lane keeping is the latest, will be life-changing, making our journeys safer and smoother than ever before and helping prevent some 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade.

“This advanced technology is ready for roll out in new models from as early as 2021, so today’s announcement is a welcome step in preparing the UK for its use, so we can be among the first to grasp the benefits of this road safety revolution."

In late 2020, the Government plans to launch a public consultation on the detail of any changes to legislation and the Highway Code that are proposed, which will include a summary of responses to this Call for Evidence.

The call for evidence can be viewed here.


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