The government has confirmed planned changes to the Highway Code ahead of the introduction of self-driving vehicles. These specify that while travelling in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to resume control in a timely way if they are prompted to – such as when they approach motorway exits.
The plans also include a change to current regulation, allowing drivers to view content that is not related to driving on built-in display screens, while the self-driving vehicle is in control.
While this means that, potentially, drivers could watch movies while in the car, it will still be illegal to use mobile phones in self-driving mode, given the greater risk they pose in distracting drivers as shown in research.
Transport Minister Trudy Harrison announced: “This is a major milestone in our safe introduction of self-driving vehicles, which will revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys greener, safer and more reliable.
“This exciting technology is developing at pace right here in Great Britain and we’re ensuring we have strong foundations in place for drivers when it takes to our roads.”
The government announced in April last year that vehicles fitted with automated lane keeping system (ALKS) technology could be the first example of self-driving technology. Existing technology available on the market is “assistive”, meaning drivers must currently always remain in control and responsible.
Designed for use on a motorway in slow traffic, ALKS enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, up to 37 mph, while maintaining the ability to return control easily and safely to the driver when required.
Meanwhile, the government expects to have a full regulatory framework in place to support the widespread deployment of the technology by 2025, as part of its commitment to make the movement of people and goods safer, greener and more efficient.
The technology could improve road safety across Britain by reducing human error, which is a contributory factor in 88% of all recorded road collisions. The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 new, high-skilled jobs within Britain’s industry that would be worth £41.7 billion by 2035, the Department of Transport claimed.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “Amending the Highway Code to reflect the pace of technological change will help clarify what motorists can and can’t do when a self-driving feature is engaged, so promoting its safe use.”