Industry cautious about ALKS announcement

The government has announced that self-driving cars could be allowed on UK motorways by the end of the year.

The Department for Transport has confirmed that automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) will be the first type of hands-free driving to be legalised, with speeds limited to 37mph.

Drivers will still need to be alert and prepared to take over controls within 10 seconds.

However, the industry has responded cautiously.

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, said: “There is still a lot of work needed by both legislators and the automotive industry before any vehicle can be classed as automated and allowed safely on to the UK roads.

“Automated lane keeping systems as currently proposed by the government are not automated. They are assisted driving systems as they rely on the driver to take back control. Aside from the lack of technical capabilities, by calling ALKS automated our concern also is that the UK government is contributing to the confusion and frequent misuse of assisted driving systems that have unfortunately already led to many tragic deaths.

“A widespread and effective ongoing communications campaign led by the automotive industry and supported by insurers and safety organisations is essential if we are going to address current and future misconceptions and misuse.”

It says there are four non-negotiable criteria that need to be met before ALKS can be classified as automated: the vehicle must have the capability to safely change lanes to avoid an incident; the vehicle must have the capability to find a safe harbour” at the side of the road; the systems on the vehicle must be able to recognise UK road signs; data must be made available remotely through a neutral server for any incident to verify who was in charge at the time of the incident.’

Mark Shepherd, assistant director, head of general insurance policy, Association of British Insurers, said: “While the insurance industry fully supports the development towards more automated vehicles, drivers must not be given unrealistic expectations about a system’s capability. Thatcham Research has identified some concerning scenarios where ALKS may not operate safely without the driver intervening. These need to be addressed in the consultation.”