The UK has become the first country in the world to allow cars with automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) to operate on its roads. ALKS are a type of driver assistance technology that can take over steering and braking functions on highways, keeping the car within its lane and maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles.
The UK government announced that ALKS would be legally classified as self-driving as long as they meet certain standards and conditions. This means that drivers will be able to take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road when using ALKS, but they will still need to be ready to resume control if prompted by the system or the situation.
The decision follows a public consultation that sought views from industry experts, road safety groups, and the general public on the safety and legal implications of ALKS. The government said that ALKS could improve road safety by reducing human error, which accounts for over 85% of accidents. It also said that ALKS could enhance mobility and accessibility for people who may otherwise be unable to drive.
However, some critics have raised concerns about the reliability and limitations of ALKS, especially in complex or unpredictable scenarios. For instance, ALKS are only designed to work at speeds up to 37 mph (60 km/h) and on roads where traffic flows in the same direction. They also rely on sensors and cameras that may not function well in poor weather or low visibility conditions.
Moreover, some experts have argued that ALKS do not qualify as fully autonomous driving, as they still require human supervision and intervention. They have warned that drivers may become overconfident or complacent when using ALKS and may not be able to react quickly enough if something goes wrong.
The UK government has acknowledged these challenges and has set out strict rules and guidelines for the use of ALKS. For example, drivers must remain alert and attentive at all times and must not use their phones or other devices while using ALKS. They must also ensure that their car is compatible with ALKS and that the system is updated and maintained regularly.
The government has also said that it will continue to monitor and review the performance and safety of ALKS and will update the regulations as needed. It has also pledged to work with international partners to develop common standards and best practices for automated driving technologies.
The UK’s move to approve ALKS is part of its broader ambition to become a global leader in innovation and technology, especially in the automotive sector. The government has invested heavily in the research and development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and has supported several trials and projects across the country.
According to a report by KPMG, the UK ranks among the top five countries in the world for CAV readiness based on factors such as policy, infrastructure, consumer acceptance, and technology. The report estimates that CAVs could create up to 420,000 new jobs and add £62 billion ($86 billion) to the UK economy by 2030.