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Driverless cars could be legal on British roads by early 2021

The Government has launched a consultation that could pave the way to driverless cars being introduced on British roads as early as next year.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued a call for evidence for the 'Automated Lane Keeping System' (ALKS) – an automated system that can take over control of a vehicle at low speeds, keeping it in its present lane on motorways.

When activated, the system keeps the vehicle within its lane, controlling its movements for extended periods of time without the driver needing to do anything, although the driver is expected to be ready and able to resume driving control when prompted by the vehicle.

The Government is seeking views on whether vehicles equipped with such a system should be legally defined as an automated vehicle, which would mean the technology provider would be responsible for the safety of the vehicle when the system is engaged, rather than the driver.

It is also considering proposals to allow the safe use of this system on British roads at speeds of up to 70mph.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean said: “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.”

While automakers have already begun testing driverless technology on UK roads, surveys suggest that people are still wary of the technology and its safety implications. 

A study in June suggested that driverless vehicles may not be as safe as previously thought as most crashes are due to more complex errors than just perception or driver incapacitation - the areas in which the technology largely excels.

Nevertheless, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) believes that ALKS and other automated driving systems could prevent approximately 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next 10 years.

The technology has already been approved by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) - of which the UK is a member - and could be available as early as next Spring.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “Over the last 50 years, leading-edge in-car technology from seat belts to airbags and ABS has helped to save thousands of lives.

“The Government is right to be consulting on the latest collision-avoidance system, which has the potential to make our roads even safer in the future.”

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