The UK to Introduce Self-Driving Technology by the End of 2021


London Street with double decker bus.
Photo by Darya Tryfanava on Unsplash

The UK is making big advances when it comes to self-driving technology. The government has announced that by the end of 2021, self-driving vehicles will be legal on UK roads.


The announcement pertains to a specific type of self-driving technology that the government has legalized – automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS). This is a form of hands-free technology that keeps vehicles in position on the road and within a set speed. The ALKS technology that has been approved in the UK would limit the speed of vehicles to 37 mph (or 60 km/h).


In an article for the BBC, reporting on this news, has highlighted the various conversations surrounding the governments decision. While some are pleased with the news, seeing it as a big stride forward for the UK and for automated driving in general, others have raised concerns about the technology that has been legalized and on the impacts that it will have on how people behave when behind the wheel.


To be clear, while ALKS technology will give more freedom to drivers, relieving them of some of the pressure of driving, it doesn’t mean that drivers will be able to take a nap or watch videos on YouTube while on the road.


“The government confirmed that drivers will not be required to monitor the road or keep their hands on the wheel when the vehicle is driving itself. But the driver will need to stay alert and be able to take over when requested by the system within 10 seconds. If a driver fails to respond, the vehicle will automatically put on its hazard lights to warn nearby vehicles, slow down and eventually stop.”

Other forms of self-driving technology have graced UK rods already, although this latest technology legalized by the government is the most sophisticated. And, unfortunately, those earlier iterations of self-driving technology in the UK have not been without incident.


The BBC article points to an incident that occurred in 2018, in which a driver from Nottingham turned on the “self-driving” feature in their Tesla and proceeded to switch over to the passenger seat (they have since been banned from driving). And outside of the UK, high-profile fatalities have occurred when drivers put too much confidence in their vehicles’ self-driving technologies.


One of the biggest criticisms against the UK’s recent decision has been about the use of the term “self-driving” at all. Some have argued that ALKS technology should not be referred to as self-driving technology because it might give driver the wrong impression.


“The danger is that calling this a “self-driving” feature will make motorists over confident. The road to full autonomy has plenty of technical and regulatory challenges – and the trickiest section of the journey is where drivers can begin to let the car take over but still need to stay alert.”

While many are eager to see self-driving technology or tools fully embraced and soon, others warn that taking things slow and being very clear about what these tools enable us to do as drivers is of the utmost importance. The BBC article relays that “… safety experts are urging caution about the pace at which robots can be allowed to take the wheel.”


While this is big news for the UK, it’s important to realize the difference between ALKS technology and the all-encompassing “self-driving” technology we picture when we hear the term (technology that requires nothing from us at all). Either way, the UK is now on course to allow vehicles equipped with ALKS on UK roads this year. It will be interesting to how this plays out, and whether the use of the term “self-driving” by the UK government will have any unintended consequences.


For more, check out the original article on the BBC website.