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Hands-free driving could be legal on UK roads by spring 2021

  • 20.08.2020
  • JessicaMG
  • Personal-injury
  • Personal Injury road traffic accident

This week the government announced it has launched a consultation into ‘automated lane keeping systems’ (ALKS). The technology controls a vehicle’s movements and is able to keep the car in lane for extended periods, however the driver must be ready to take back control.

"Life-changing"

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders the technology could reduce road traffic accidents. Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society said automated technologies would be "life-changing" and could prevent almost 50,000 serious road traffic accidents over the next 10 years.

Some modern cars already have the technology for a car to steer itself and stay in lane, even on curved roads. A well-known example of this is Tesla’s so-called “Autopilot” - described as "a suite of advanced driver-assistance system features offered by Tesla that has lane centering, traffic-aware cruise control, self-parking, automatic lane changes, semi-autonomous navigation on limited access freeways, and the ability to summon the car from a garage or parking spot."

Tesla's autopilot is classed as a two on the scale of self-driving cars - the next stage, level three, do not need the driver’s attention at all times, enabling the driver to carry out other activities whilst the car is in motion, such as reading a book or watching a film, until the car prompts the driver to take over again. Introducing such systems would require changes to current legal framework, which the Department for Transport (DfT) is now considering.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), of which the UK is a member, has previously approved the ALKS technology and set rules to allow the system to be used during traffic jams on the motorway of up to speeds of 37mph.

According to the DfT the technology could now be given the go ahead for speeds of up to 70mph.

Now the government is calling for feedback and evidence regarding the technology from the motoring industry to best decide how to implement the technology in the safest possible way, as well as whether ALKS-enabled vehicles should be come under the automated classification. The latter would mean that the technology provider would be responsible for safety while the system is in use, not the driver. The consultation is due to close on 27 October 2020. 

Incidents involving current driver-assist features

While there has been praise for the technology - including from the president of the AA, Edmund King, who has welcomed the move and said the UK is right to look into measures which could potentially make roads safer - there have been a number of accidents involving the current driver-assist feature in which drivers did not pay enough attention to the road.

A Nottingham resident was banned from driving in 2018 after climbing into the passenger seat of his Tesla on the motorway, letting the car do the driving. Elsewhere, a fatal crash in the United States, in which a car crashed into a concrete barrier, was partially caused because the driver was playing a video game whilst the car was left in “Autopilot” mode.

Such incidents have prompted questions as to whether the marketing of such features as "self-driving" is misleading to customers.

Rachel Rees, Solicitor Consultant within the Personal Injury team here at Potter Rees Dolan, comments: 

"I welcome any innovation which can improve safety and provide other benefits including better accessibility for the less able  but such change  brings a need for an effective legal framework to deal with the inevitable challenges such as potential for system “freeze” causing hazards,  potential disputes between car manufacturers and software providers over responsibility for this, and the risk of drivers not paying full attention. I await with interest the government’s consultation process and thereafter its detailed proposals on how to keep everyone safe including the insurance and regulatory requirements to ensure collision victims are adequately compensated without delay."

Rachel is a Solicitor Consultant within our Personal Injury team and is a founding memeber of Potter Rees Dolan. If you would like to speak to Rachel regarding any apect of this article or with regards to Personal Injury claims, please call 0800 027 2557 or contact Rachel directly here