Autopilot, or the fully-automated vehicle, has been a fixture of science fiction for decades. And yet, an explosion in recent research and development into the delivery of the ‘self-driving car’ has led to the Department of Transport signaling the legal use of such vehicles on UK roads and motorways.
Why Self-Driving Cars Now Allowed On UK Roads? Know The Update!
This is a landmark period for consumer technology, but the implications of introducing autonomous vehicle legislation are not yet fully understood by many – nor are the ramifications of autonomous driving in existing legislation.
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ALKS, And Changes To Law
ALKS, or Automated Lane Keeping Systems, are the technology at the center of the new government proposals. The tech allows for cars to safely maintain speed and trajectory within a lane of traffic, theoretically enabling drivers to operate a vehicle hand- and pedal-free. Lane-keeping technology has existed in some form for some time, with many cars including the tech as part of their cruise control options.
However, ALKS is unique in the breadth of its application, heralding the new age of cars requiring minimal human intervention to operate. From Spring 2022, cars containing ALKS are allowed to operate on public roads and motorways, up to a speed of 37mph.
Benefits To Road Users
The law change has been welcomed by many as a progressive adoption of new technologies to existing infrastructure. While the 37mph exists to maintain driver safety on roads and motorways, automated control of vehicles is thought to ease the impact of traffic jams on road users – especially the mental stress attributed to driving in traffic.
The legal admission of autonomous vehicles to UK roads clears up general confusion over the legality of such vehicles, enabling major car manufacturers to offer autonomous models to consumers. The car industry has already seen government upheaval following the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles, leading to a future of low-emissions, autonomous electric vehicles.
Implications For Law
Of course, automated driving cannot be directly introduced to UK roads without necessary reaction and change in the legal profession; autonomous vehicles are difficult to legislate around, owing to devolved responsibility in the event of a road traffic incident. Businesses will require the services of a technology lawyer to safely implement automated driving systems in their supply chain, and to navigate the new legal sphere in which car autonomy exists.
Testing for automated vehicles in the US has led to a number of accidents, and at least one fatality; the ensuing legal case saw the car manufacturer absolved of responsibility for the death, despite low lighting and inadequate sensors being attributed to the vehicle’s failure to stop. With the technology still in its infancy, and drivers potentially liable for incidents occurring as a result of their vehicle, there is much yet to discuss.