Drivers in fully autonomous cars will be able to watch television on built-in infotainment systems under proposed changes to the Highway Code.
Announced by the Government, the proposed changes will not permit mobile phone use however and drivers will be required to take back control when required.
The planned changes will clarify drivers’ responsibilities in self-driving vehicles and follow a public consultation launched by the Government. They’re due to be introduced this summer ahead of the introduction of vehicles with automated lane keeping system (ALKS) technology later this year.
Announced last year and designed for use on a motorway in slow traffic, ALKS enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, up to 37mph, while maintaining the ability to return control easily and safely to the driver when required.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said vehicles will undergo rigorous testing and only be approved as self-driving when they have met stringent standards.
The Government is also continuing its work on developing a full legal framework for self-driving vehicles, which it says will be in place to support the widespread deployment of the technology by 2025.
The DfT has also pledged to also work with industry, regulators and safety organisations to ensure drivers can access information, including online, to help them use the vehicles safely.
The Government is keen to stress the benefits of self-driving technology in cars, buses and delivery vehicles, which it says could spark the beginning of the end of urban congestion, while also improving road safety across Britain by reducing human error – a contributory factor in 88% of all recorded road collisions. The technology could also improve access to transport for people with mobility issues and lead to more reliable public transport services.
Commenting on the planned changes to the Highway Code, Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said: “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.
“In doing so, we can help improve travel for all while boosting economic growth across the nation and securing Britain’s place as a global science superpower.”
The RAC Foundation welcomed the changes but said the amendments must be widely communicated to, and understood by, vehicle owners.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, added: “Vehicle manufacturers and sellers will have a vital role to play in ensuring their customers fully appreciate the capabilities of the cars they buy and the rules that govern them.”
Thatcham Research also welcomed the announcement’s focus on ensuring that drivers understand their legal obligations behind the wheel of any vehicle described as having ‘self-driving capability’ – and said it was pleased to see that the proposed changes will not permit mobile phone use.
But Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer, also set out other vital considerations.
He commented: “Although automation will ultimately make our roads safer, accidents will still occur. Therefore, data must be recorded that shows who was in control at the time of a collision, however minor, and this data must be openly accessible to all stakeholders, not only the carmakers.
“The question of who pays when an automated vehicle crashes remains unclear. Carmakers and insurers will work together to handle claims where the vehicle is proven to be in self-driving mode and while Mercedes recently announced that it will accept liability when it’s ‘Drive Pilot’ automated system is engaged, the provision of data will be vital to making sense of collisions and ensuring that legal wrangling does not put a brake on adoption.
“As a clear communication to the consumer, the announcement’s focus on the driver’s legal responsibilities is important, especially when it comes to taking back control from the system. This is an area of risk and it’s important that drivers are aware that they must remain engaged and be ready to resume the driving task at any time.”