The UK’s Department of Transport has announced that it’s moving to conditionally legalize self-driving cars in which the driver doesn’t have to pay attention to the road or keep their hands on the wheel, in a move that it expects will save lives.
This is a distinction from what’s currently legal – level two driver assistance in which drivers are expected to keep their eyes on the road even while the car is driving itself. The new laws, set to come in by the end of the year, will bring the UK into line with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) policies being enacted across the EU and parts of Asia, enabling hands-off, eyes-off, level-three driving up to speeds of 60 km/h (27 mph), and only on motorways where pedestrians and cyclists aren’t allowed.
Drivers will still need to be ready to take over; when the system requests a driver takeover, you’ll have 10 seconds to get your act together, work out what’s going on around you and take the wheel, or else the vehicle will put its hazard lights on, then slow to a halt.
It’s a conservative step forward, with a speed limit well below what you’d expect on a motorway, and the initial laws won’t allow the car to change lanes by itself. Essentially, in its current form, it’ll be a traffic jam handler. Cars will need to achieve GB type approval for ALKS technology, and there will have to be “no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.”
It’s unclear at this stage what liberties drivers will be able to take once they hand over control. In a report commissioned by the DoT, it was found that 80 percent of drivers would like to use their smartphones while the car was self-driving – a figure that would come as no surprise to anyone that’s looked sideways in traffic lately. But it was also found that highly visually engaging activities like smartphone use had a high impact on both the time it took for drivers to take over the wheel when requested, and the number of times the takeover event caused them to swerve out of their lane.
“Automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade,” says SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes, “through their ability to reduce the single largest cause of road accidents – human error. Technologies such as Automated Lane Keeping Systems will pave the way for higher levels of automation in future.”
Source: UK Government