Self-driving cars to be allowed on UK roads this year – but only at snail’s pace

Self-driving cars will be allowed to travel at just over half the national speed limit on UK motorways this year.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has explained the futuristic technology will be limited to 37mph because it is only permitted to take over during congestion.

The DfT has branded self-driving as “traffic jam chauffeur technology” which uses an automated lane-keeping system (ALKS) to constantly monitor speed and keep a safe distance from other cars.

A driver will still have to be sitting behind the wheel, ready to speed up for when the traffic clears, The Independent reports.

With cameras and sensors in its armoury, ALKS will make an “emergency manoeuvre” out of harm's way if it detects an “imminent collision risk”.

The system reduce the risk of accidents on the road massively, according to DfT which states 85% of accidents are caused by human error.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean described the new ruling as a “major step for the safe use of self-driving vehicles in the UK” that would make car journeys “greener, easier and more reliable while also helping the nation to build back better”.

She added: “But we must ensure that this exciting new tech is deployed safely, which is why we are consulting on what the rules to enable this should look like.

“In doing so, we can improve transport for all, securing the UK’s place as a global science superpower.”

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Jim Holder, editorial director of What Car? , believes it is an "effective" use of self-driving cars and will boost Britain's status in developing the technology, according to The Independent.

Mr Holder commentd: “These are very, very controlled circumstances, low speed, relatively straight roads, clear road markings. In theory this should be a very effective way of using the technology to good effect.”

He said the UK is in a “global competition” to develop the technology, adding that the announcement “gets us back in the race” as the UK is lagging “a bit behind” the US and China.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, warned of “challenges” when the driver must take back control of their vehicle.

He said: “There is a risk of situations in which drivers over-rely on the automated system, expecting it to deal with events for which it is neither intended nor capable.

“And what happens when drivers are expected to take back control in an emergency? Research for us shows that it can take drivers several seconds to regain command of their vehicle.”

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “Technologies such as automated lane keeping systems will pave the way for higher levels of automation in future.

“These advances will unleash Britain’s potential to be a world leader in the development and use of these technologies, creating essential jobs while ensuring our roads remain among the safest on the planet.”

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