Motorists could legally allow their cars to “self-drive” on British motorways later this year – but only slowly, the government has announced.
Drivers could soon be allowed to read a newspaper or watch a film via the car’s built-in screen in periods of slow-moving traffic, using automated lane-keeping system (Alks) technology that makes the car stay in lane and a safe distance from other vehicles.
But insurers and motoring organisations said much more work needed to be done to ensure safety, after the Department for Transport confirmed it would pursue plans to allow new models fitted with Alks to drive without the driver’s input.
The cars will be defined as self-driving when the system is in operation, at a maximum speed of 37mph. According to the DfT, the technology, which will constantly monitor speed and distance from other cars, could improve road safety by reducing human error.
Under UN regulation, the system is for use only on motorways, where traffic flows in the same direction and no pedestrians or cyclists are permitted. It must hand back control to the driver when required, such as when a traffic jam clears and traffic speeds up, with up to 10 seconds for the transition.
A fresh consultation on the Highway Code has been launched to examine what rules are needed to ensure Alks is used safely.
Transport minister Rachel Maclean said it was a “major step for the safe use of self-driving vehicles in the UK, making future journeys greener, easier and more reliable.