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UK opens the way to self-driving cars

We are likely to see drivers taking off their hands from the wheels by the end of the year, since it has been announced autonomous cars will be permitted on the roads.

UK will allow self-driving cars on its roads this year

The Department for Transport (DfT) disclosed that self-driving cars will be allowed to drive on UK motorways. The maximum allowed speed for this kind of vehicles is 37mph and the driver must be always ready to take control of the car.

Self-driving cars could be on UK roads later this year

Autonomous cars may seem futuristic, as they permit hands-free driving and the automated lane keeping system (ALSK) allows the driver not to pay attention. Cameras and sensors help the car to monitor speed and keep a safe distance from other vehicles on the road on its own.

Drivers can thereby let the car take the control, as long as there is no evidence to “challenge the ability” of it to be used autonomously. The self-driving car’s system is able to detect an “imminent collision risk” and to take evasive action as braking or changing the direction. According to DfT, this technologic system could be a great benefit in terms of road safety, since 85% of crashes are caused by human error.

UK Highway Code will be updated, new laws are indeed necessary by the introduction of self-driving cars to use them safely.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean declared: ‘This is a major step for the safe use of self-driving vehicles in the UK, making future journeys greener, easier and more reliable while also helping the nation to build back better.

“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.”

Opinions on the news

Jim Holder, editorial director of magazine What Car?, defined this new policy as a “sensible first step” towards autonomous driving. He said: “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.”

In Holder’s opinion, this novelty could get the UK “back in the race” to develop the technology, where the US and China are currently in the lead.

Mike Hawes, CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, is also enthusiastic about the new policy. He told: “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.”

But there are different opinions. Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, warned about the risks a transfer of control between technology and the person can involve. He explained: “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.”

AA president Edmund King is on the same page, he told “we shouldn’t be in race to take drivers’ hands off the wheel”.

“There are still gaps in how this technology detects and stops if the vehicle is involved in a collision. There are still question marks over how drivers will be fully informed how these systems work. More needs to be done to rigorously test these systems before they are used on UK roads.”

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