The changes will say drivers must be ready to take back control of vehicles when prompted, the Government has announced. New guidance has been given to move Britain closer to a “self-driving revolution” by outlining the steps that will be taken to allow them to be driven safely on UK roads.
Following a public consultation, changes will be made to the Highway Code to ensure the first wave of technology will be used safely.
This will include the need for motorists to be ready to resume control in a timely way if they are prompted to do so, including when they approach motorway exits.
However, the guidance also allows drivers to take their eyes off the road and look at so-called “infotainment” screens.
The Department for Transport has stated: “The plans also include a change to current regulation, allowing drivers to view content which is not related to driving on built-in display screens, while the self-driving vehicle is in control.
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Designed for use on the motorway in slow traffic, Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) technology enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, up to 37mph.
The new rules also state that insurance companies will be financially liable, rather than individual motorists, for accidents in self-driving cars.
Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer at Thatcham Research, commented on the announcement, saying it was key that drivers are made aware of the changes.
He said: “This is another notable landmark on our journey towards safe Automated Driving in the UK.
“Education is a key enabler of safe adoption, and as such we welcome the announcement’s focus on ensuring that drivers understand their legal obligations behind the wheel of any vehicle described as having ‘self-driving capability’.
“Although automation will ultimately make our roads safer, accidents will still occur.
“Therefore, data must be recorded that shows who was in control at the time of a collision, however minor, and this data must be openly accessible to all stakeholders, not only the carmakers.
“We are also pleased to see that the proposed changes will not permit mobile phone use, and instead only allow use of the vehicle’s infotainment system.
“[This] means the self-driving system can issue a warning as required and bring the driver back into the loop promptly.”
Drivers with existing technology, such as assistance systems like cruise control, auto start/stop and lane tracking, must always remain in control of their vehicle, as these products are not defined as self-driving.
The Government has already committed to creating a new legal framework for self-driving vehicles, following recommendations by the Law Commission, but this will require a longer-term programme of regulatory reform.
The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 new, high-skilled jobs within Britain’s industry that would be worth £41.7billion by 2035.