The UK government has become the first country to declare on Wednesday that it would allow the use of self-driving vehicles on highways at low speeds, with the first such vehicles likely hitting public roads this year.
The British transport ministry said it was working on precise terminology to amend the country’s highway code to allow for the safe use of self-driving vehicle systems, beginning with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS), which use sensors and software to keep cars inside a lane while also enabling them to accelerate and brake without driver’s intervention.
The government stated that ALKS can only be used on highways at speeds of less than 37 miles per hour (60 km/h).
The UK government aims to be at the frontline of automated driving technology deployment, and the transport ministry estimates that by 2035, about 40% of new UK vehicles will have self-driving capabilities, resulting in the creation of up to 38,000 new skilled jobs.
In a statement, Mike Hawes, CEO of car industry lobby group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said, “The automotive industry welcomes this crucial move to allow the use of automated vehicles on UK roads, which will place Britain in the vanguard of road safety and automotive technology.”
However, insurance companies warn that Britain’s ambition to be a pioneer in self-driving car adoption could end badly until automakers and regulators spell out the current technology’s limitations.
They argue that referring to ALKS as “automated” or “self-driving” would mislead British drivers into believing the cars can drive themselves, resulting in accidents and a public outcry against the technology.
“Aside from the lack of technological capability, we are concerned that by naming ALKS automated, the UK Government is adding to the misunderstanding and widespread abuse of assisted driving systems, which has already resulted in many tragic deaths,” said Matthew Avery, research director at Thatcham Research, which has tested ALKS systems.
In the United States, authorities are looking into around 20 deaths involving Tesla’s driver assistance tools, such as its “Autopilot” system, because drivers seem to underestimate the limits of technology.