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Government consults on automated lane keeping in step towards self-driving cars

Date: 19 August 2020   |   Author: Sean Keywood

The UK Government has launched an industry consultation over plans for more advanced autonomous driving technology to be legalised as early as spring 2021.

The call for evidence concerns automated lane keeping technology, defined as a system which can take control of the vehicle and keep it in its lane on motorways.

The system is able to control the vehicle for extended periods of time without the driver needing to do anything, although the driver must be ready and able to resume control when prompted by the vehicle.

It would be the first time ever that drivers were allowed to delegate the task of driving to the vehicle in the UK.

The government says it is seeking views from the industry on proposed rules for the system, with a view to introducing it within the current legal framework.

This includes asking whether vehicles using the technology should be legally defined as automated, giving the technology provider responsibility for safety when the system is engaged, rather than the driver.

The government is also seeking views on proposals to allow the technology at speeds up to 70mph.

The government says it is acting now as the technology is likely to be available on cars entering the UK market by next spring, following its approval earlier this year by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, of which the UK is a member.

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."

Among the industry figures welcoming the move is Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Mike Hawes, who predicted the technology could lead to major safety improvements.

He 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."

AA president Edmund King said: "Over the last fifty years leading edge in-car technology from seat belts to airbags and ABS has helped to save thousands of lives.

"The government is right to be consulting on the latest collision-avoidance system which has the potential to make our roads even safer in the future."

The government says that the industry consultation will be followed in late 2020 by a public consultation, covering 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.