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Hands-free cars could be on British motorways as soon as spring 2021, but the public doesn’t look confident

Hands-free cars could be on British motorways as soon as spring 2021, but the public doesn’t look confident

The Government has launched a consultation that could result in driverless cars being permitted on British motorways as early as next year.

But the public doesn’t look confident, yet.

Launched last week, the Department for Transport’s consultation is all about whether drivers should be held legally responsible for autonomous cars.

Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) can regulate vehicles going at low speeds and keep them in the same lane on motorways. They control the movement of driverless cars for extended periods of time – without the driver needing to lift a finger.

Such technology already exists in some modern cars. Currently, the systems allow cars to control themselves at speeds up to 37mph in heavy traffic conditions. But the consultation will also consider whether ALKS could be usable at speeds up to 70mph.

The question of responsibility

Right now, all that an ALKS car driver’s expected to do is be ready and able to take back control as and when the car instructs them.

But should ALKS vehicles become legally defined as “automated vehicles”, the technology provider would be responsible for the safety of the vehicle whenever the system is engaged.

And that’s the crucial question that the Government is seeking views on. Who should be responsible for safety? The tech provider, or the driver?

If you have expert insight or a view to get across you can respond to the consultation here. You can read more about the definition of automation under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 there too.

How safe are driverless cars?

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders believes that ALKS and similar systems will prevent around 47,000 accidents and save 3,900 lives over the coming decade.

And ALKS have already got the seal of approval from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Indeed, the UK Government has previously announced plans to launch limited trials of autonomous cars on British roads in 2021.

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said of the latest consultation: “Automated technology could make driving safer, smoother and easier for motorists and the UK should be the first country to see these benefits, attracting manufacturers to develop and test new technologies.

“The UK’s work in this area is world leading and the results from this call for evidence could be a significant step forward for this exciting technology.”

Public confidence low

But whether the UK is ready to adopt it on motorways remains to be seen. Right now, the survey says no.

According to a recent YouGov poll of 1,947 adults, only 6% would be “very comfortable” with the idea of driverless cars on British motorways. 36% said they wouldn’t be comfortable at all, while 33% said they wouldn’t be “very comfortable”.

Which side of the fence are you on? Agree that we’re not ready for technology like this? Or should the UK dive in now and be among the first countries to adopt a futuristic way of getting around?

And what about the question of responsibility? Who should take the wrap is something were to go wrong? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts!