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UK readies for autonomous driving tech under government consultation

Latest collision avoidance technology is to come under a government consultation, helping to pave the way for its safe use in the UK from spring 2021.

The Government says the call for evidence could be a significant step forward for automated lane-keeping assistance

Building on existing lane-keeping systems that provide nominal assistance, Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) will actually take over control of vehicles at low speeds, keeping them in lane on roads such as motorways, and are under focus in a newly announced government call for evidence.

The technology controls the car’s movements for extended periods of time without the driver needing to do anything. But it has the caveat that the driver must be ready and able to resume driving control when prompted by the vehicle. It can also be deactivated, which is likely to cause some concerns to road safety organisations.

Such systems have already been approved under the ALKS Regulation in June 2020 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) – of which the UK is a member – and are likely to be available in cars entering the UK market from spring 2021.

The call for evidence will help shape its use, ensuring that regulation is ready where necessary for its introduction. This includes seeking views on the Government’s proposals to allow the safe use of the system in the UK at speeds of up to 70mph.

The call for evidence will also look at 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 – bringing a number of considerations, including insurance.

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.”

With autonomous driving technology expected to help prevent crashes related to human error – although there are concerns how many will be eliminated – the introduction of ALKS could bring major road safety benefits.

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.”

The call for evidence seeks input from across the industry and is open until 11:59 PM on 27 October 2020. It will be followed in late 2020 by a public consultation on the detail of any changes to legislation and the Highway Code that are proposed; this will include a summary of responses to the call for evidence.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006.