UK government consults on driverless cars on motorways

Out-Law News | 25 Aug 2020 | 10:47 am | 2 min. read

The UK government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) is seeking views on the use of hands-free driving technology on British motorways.

CCAV has launched a consultation (45 page / 1MB PDF) into the use of Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) on motorways in England, Scotland and Wales. ALKS controls a vehicle’s movement without the need for driver intervention and is designed to keep a car in its motorway lane at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour – for example when there is heavy, slow-moving traffic.

ALKS can only be activated through a deliberate action by the driver and when the driver is in the car’s driving seat and available. It can also only be used on roads where pedestrians and cyclists are not present.

A ‘transition demand’ is issued by the vehicle if the system stops working, or if one of the conditions for activation is no longer met. Drivers have a minimum of 10 seconds to respond to a transition demand and retake control of the vehicle, and if they fail to respond, ALKS would bring the vehicle to a controlled stop within the lane.

Driverless cars expert Ben Gardner said the consultation was the latest in a long line of information requests and announcements from CCAV concerning the development, testing and commercialisation of driverless vehicle technology.

“This is by far the most advanced assisted driving feature that has been the subject of a consultation, which demonstrates the ambitions of the UK government to ensure that the UK remains a global leader in the mobility sector,” Gardner said.

CCAV is asking for views on whether ALKS technology is compliant with the definition of automation under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act (AEVA) 2018.

It is seeking evidence on areas such as driver education, and how involved manufacturers and government should be in providing information about the limitations of an ALKS. CCAV is asking if stakeholders have concerns about vehicles using ALKS being automatically considered to be automated vehicles under AEVA.

The consultation also asks for views on safety issues, such as how ALKS would respond to a police or other emergency vehicle or how it would respond to a minor collision. The government is proposing to amend the Motorway Traffic Regulations to exempt drivers from prosecution if the vehicle comes to an unjustified stop when ALKS is engaged.

It also discusses the issue of whether drivers would be allowed to perform other activities or use ‘infotainment’ systems when ALKS is engaged. This would also require an exception being added to current regulations.

Gardner said: “The challenge remains how quickly the required changes to current regulations could be introduced. The consultation period closes on 27 October 2020 following which there will be further discussions within government before draft regulations can be developed, commented on,

finalised and brought into force. By then it will be interesting to see if the technology itself has moved on and whether those regulations are still fit for purpose.”