UK government green lights ‘autonomous cars on motorways

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UK government green lights ‘autonomous cars on motorways

Autonomous cars on UK motorways soon

The UK has become the first country in the world to announce that it will regulate the use of autonomous vehicles on UK motorways, albeit, at slow speeds.

It won’t be long before British subjects see self-driving cars appear on UK public roads and this could happen as early as this year. 

The UK Ministry of Transport said that it was working on specific wording to update the legislation on the country’s highway code for autonomous self-driving vehicle systems. 

The trials will start with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS). These systems use sensors and software to keep cars within a lane which can allow acceleration and braking without any driver input. This is of course, a step towards full vehicular autonomy .

The ALKS systems will be restricted to motorways, and will require speeds under 37 miles (60 km) per hour.

The UK has aims on being the first country in the world to roll out fully-autonomous driving and the transport ministry believes  that around 40% of new UK cars could have self-driving capabilities by 2035, creating up to 38,000 new skilled jobs. The CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Mike Hawes, said in a statement:

"The automotive industry welcomes this vital step to permit the use of automated vehicles on UK roads, which will put Britain in the vanguard of road safety and automotive technology," 

The UK’s goal of being world leader in the adoption and regulation of autonomous vehicles could backfire unless self-driving car manufacturers and the regulators map out and plan for the current limitations of self-driving  technology.

The fear is that the general public will have the impression that 'self-driving cars can at this time drive themselves without causing accidents. Any such accidents during the trial period could risk a major public backlash against the technology. Regarding ALKS systems, the research director at Thatcham Research, Matthew Avery said:

"Aside from the lack of technical capabilities, by calling ALKS automated our concern also is that the UK Government is contributing to the confusion and frequent misuse of assisted driving systems that have unfortunately already led to many tragic deaths,"   

It is an ongoing issue, though, that many drivers have a huge misunderstanding of self-driving technologies, especially in the United States, where about 20 crashes have occured due to driver distraction involving Tesla’s Tesla driver assistance tools, such as its ‘Autopilot’ system.

It would be interesting to see if this is also rolled out on Northern Ireland motorways, which would be a good testing ground also for any autonomous cars trials here?


Justin Kavanagh
Justin Kavanagh is a recognised leader in automotive intelligence and vehicle data supply to the entire motor industry. He has almost 20 years experience in building systems from the ground up. As the Managing Director of Vehicle Management System, he understands the need and importance of trustworthy and reliable vehicle history and advice to both the trade and the public.
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