Hands-Free Driving By End of 2021

28 Apr 2021 by Lisa Simm

The government is currently considering a rule change that could allow cars with lane-keeping assistance to allow hands-free driving on motorways at speeds up to 37mph.

A Step Closer to Driverless Cars

The Department of Transport (DfT) has outlined plans to legally define cars with Automated Lane Keeping Assistance (ALKS) as self-driving.

This move would legalise the hands-off operation of cars with ALKS at low speeds. If approved, it marks a step forwards in the legalisation of driverless cars and will allow some vehicles to drive themselves under certain circumstances on UK roads.

What is ALKS?

Under the proposed changes, to legally drive hands-off, your car must be equipped with ALKS technology, but what exactly does this mean?

The DfT defines a car with ALKS as capable of driving itself in a single lane while also easily and safely returning control to the driver when needed.

Essentially this means the car can maintain its position within lane markings while also maintaining a set speed when used in conjunction with adaptive cruise control (which is already legal).

Current Legal Status of ALKS Motoring

Many new cars come with ALKS technology. But under existing legislation, the driver is not legally able to remove their hands from the steering wheel as the cars are not classified as self-driving.

If the proposed changes go ahead, it would allow hands-off driving on motorways up to speeds of less than 37mph by the end of the year. The government says cars could be legally defined as self-driving:

“as long as they receive GB type approval and that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.”

However, the planned change to the classification of cars as self-driving is reliant on alterations to the Highway Code. As a result, a consultation is planned for 28th May to assess what rules will need to be put into new laws to ensure the technology is safe.

hands-free driving Tesla Model S

How Will the System Work?

The government has indicated drivers won’t have to monitor the road or keep their hands on the wheel when the vehicle is driving itself.

However, the driver will need to stay alert ad be ready to take over control when requested by the system within 10 seconds. Failure to respond will cause the vehicle to put on its hazard lights to warn nearby cars and slow down to a stop.

What is Driving the Change?

The DfT says that the proposed changes will help to enhance road safety by reducing the chance of human error. Which it says is a contributing factor in more than 85 per cent of accidents.

It also anticipates that autonomous driving and vehicle connectivity will help boost connectivity, reduce congestion in urban environments, increase efficiency and enhance the accessibility of public transport.

The Opposition

So far, we have covered the benefits of hands-free motoring, but what about the cons.

Insurance companies have warned the government’s definition of ALKS as self-driving is misleading, as the legislation would only enable hands-free driving in certain circumstances up to speeds of 37mph.

Furthermore, Thatcham Research has identified several scenarios in which it says ALKS technology may not respond in the same way a competent driver necessarily would. For example, it found variations in response when pedestrians were involved, when debris was on the road and when lanes were closed. So there are numerous questions which need resolving before it is possible to legalise the hands-free operation of cars.

Finally, under existing legislation, manufacturers are not required to share crash data as is the norm in other industries like the aviation sector. This is an area the government needs to consider to enable the gathering of comprehensive information from individual incidents involving self-driving cars. Any information gathered could then be utilised to make improvements which would surely be vital to the successful roll-out of self-driving technologies.

What Do You Think?

What do you think about the proposed changes to the law regarding hands-free driving? Do you support the proposed changes which are likely to speed up the adoption of self-driving cars? Or do you think that there is no substitute for a human sitting behind the wheel controlling the vehicle? Let us know in the comments below.

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