2021 was the year the Government had targeted for fully self-driving vehicles to be on UK roads.
Although this ambitious plan is yet to be realised, 2021 saw significant strides towards making it a reality with the Government restating its commitment “to supporting the development and deployment of automation in road vehicles”.
Automated lane keeping system technology
The introduction and roll-out of automated lane keeping system (ALKS) technology could potentially be the vanguard to autonomous technologies being deployed on a wider scale across the roads of Great Britain.
Having launched a Call for Evidence on the use of this ‘lane keeping’ technology on Great Britain’s motorways in August 2020, the DfT published its findings on 28 April 2021.
On the use of ALKS up to 70mph, a “small majority of respondents opposed the idea of allowing ALKS vehicles to drive up to 70mph, many because they consider ALKS to be unsafe and that current technology does not support safe operation at higher speed”.
The next steps include commissioning research “to scope the technical requirements needed for enabling motorway-based automated driving systems to operate at higher speed and change lanes”.
Highway Code to be AV ready
One corollary of the technological advances in road transport is the need to adapt road rules to address the use of artificial intelligence. Proposed changes to the Highway Code are an acknowledgment of this.
Recognising the merit in adapting the Code, Kennedys has called for some adjustment to the proposed wording in respect of the level of attention to the vehicle and road required by users of automated vehicles when in autonomous mode.
Law Commissions: a new legal and regulatory framework
The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission published their joint report on the legal and regulatory framework necessary for the safe introduction of self-driving vehicles.
The report - a culmination of three very detailed consultation papers published between 2018 and 2020 – provides 75 recommendations, including the introduction of a new Automated Vehicles Act “setting out new regulatory schemes and new legal actors”.
For an automated driving system (ADS) feature to be self-driving, the Law Commissions have recommended that "the authorisation authority must be satisfied that it can control the vehicle so as to drive safely and legally, even if an individual is not monitoring the driving environment, the vehicle or the way that it drives".