DfT's automated lane keeping roll-out sparks controversy

Plans to legally define vehicles with Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) technology as self-driving and allow them on British roads this year have been criticised for exaggerating the capabilities of the technology.

The Department for Transport (DfT) described ALKS as designed for use on a motorway in slow traffic.

The department said it would enable a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, constantly monitoring speed and keeping a safe distance from other cars while maintaining the ability to easily and safely return control to the driver when required.

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Following a call for evidence, the DfT has set out how vehicles fitted with ALKS could be permitted on British roads, ‘as long as they receive GB type approval and that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive'.

Use of the technology will be limited to speeds of up to 37mph on motorways. The DfT said it could improve road safety by reducing human error, which contributes to over 85% of accidents.

The DfT has also launched a consultation on The Highway Code rules covering this change. This consultation will conclude on 28 May 2021.

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.

‘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.’

However, AA president Edmund King said: ‘Automated Lane Keeping systems should be classified as “Assisted Driving” technology and is a world away from “self-driving”.

‘Without doubt vehicle safety technology can save lives, but we shouldn’t be in a race to take drivers’ hands off the wheel,' he said.

‘There are still gaps in how this technology detects and stops if the vehicle is involved in a collision. There are still question marks over how drivers will be fully informed how these systems work. More needs to be done to rigorously test these systems before they are used on UK roads.’

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: ‘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.’

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