Self-driving cars could be on UK roads by the end of 2021, but not as you might expect

Published 29 April 2021

The Department for Transport (DfT) has laid out plans for vehicles equipped with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) to be legally defined as ‘self-driving’. The move would legalise hands-off operation of such cars up to 37mph.

If approved, it would mark the first step towards allowing certain cars to drive themselves. The DfT defines ALKS as those which "enable a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, while maintaining the ability to easily and safely return control to the driver when required".

But the car will not be able to perform complex operations — like changing lanes. The driver must always be ready to assume control as well.

If they're granted type approval and there's no evidence to challenge the vehicle's ability to self-drive, these cars could be allowed to operate independently of the driver on motorways at speeds of less than 37mph by the end of 2021.

Some cars are already fitted with ALKS, but it's currently illegal for a driver to remove their hands from the wheel because these cars aren't classified as self-driving.

Ford Kuga Heads Up Display

However, the term is slightly misleading. After all, driver safety assistance systems like lane assist are only automated to level 2 (out of 5).

“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,” said Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research.

“Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) 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.”

The announcement comes as a consultation on The Highway Code rules is launched to ensure the first wave of this technology is used safely and responsibly. This consultation will conclude on 28 May 2021.

Lane Assist (1)

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said: “Self-driving technology in cars, buses and delivery vehicles could spark the beginning of the end of urban congestion, with traffic lights and vehicles speaking to each other to keep traffic flowing, reducing emissions and improving air quality in our towns and cities.

Not only are automated vehicles expected to improve road safety, the technology could also improve access to transport for people with mobility issues and lead to more reliable public transport services, helping to level-up access to transport in historically disconnected and rural areas.”

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 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.

Volvo XC40 (10) (1)

Tesla's so-called "Autopilot" uses lane technology similar to ALKS. It’s also considered level two on the five defined levels of self-driving cars.

The Volvo XC40 features Pilot Assist (level 2), which can provide steering assistance and maintain the distance to the vehicle in front of you.

Similarly, the standard Nissan Leaf includes ProPilot (as an option), a semi-autonomous system that can be used when driving in single-lanes on dual-carriageways and motorways, helping to maintain lane positioning keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

The next step, level 3, would not need the driver's attention until the car prompts them to take over. Level 3 is defined by the vehicle making decisions by itself, such as when to slow down and perform manoeuvres. This technology exists but it’s not yet legal in the UK to use on public roads.

>>> Top 10: Self-driving cars


ERNEST WARD    on 29 April 2021

If these vehicles know where they are etc. by Satellite signal how do they cope in wooded areas . Normally SAT NAVs lose signal where trees line both sides of the road giving the driver no information about the road ahead..

Model Flyer    on 29 April 2021

Absolute lunacy. Whats behind this ? Smart motorways ? yeah Stupid Stupid now self driving cars , even more stupid. Governments seem to think that everyone must have this i****ic invention in the same way that they now assume everyone is connected to the internet I truly believe that this automation makes some drivers even more dangerous as they will undoubtedly be concentrating less.
The i****s who OK this should be forcibly taken to and made to clear the resulting carnage. Ask any Traffic officer, Fire Fighter or Ambulance crew.
Better still I would like to see the relatives of those who have died from "Smart motorway" RTC's taken to and charged with manslaughter !

deepdale56    on 29 April 2021

A result is that so-called 'self-driving' cars (it's difficult to think of a more misleading title) will be encouraged to drive on a motorway at 37mph to 'try it out'. How many accidents will that cause!

Mr Nexus    on 29 April 2021

I'm a motorcyclist ...............!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

tiger110    on 29 April 2021

Whilst I support the idea of self driving cars, it does seem very unwise to trial them at only 37mph on a motorway. Rear end shuts are going to be inevitable involving non-self driving cars since normal free flowing traffic on the inside lane of a motorway travels around 58mph. If these self driving vehicles use the other lanes, average speeds here for traffic are usually 60- 75mph

Harrovian    on 29 April 2021

The whole idea is simply mad, advanced by people who are out of touch and live in what amounts to a different universe!

frank o' brien    on 29 April 2021

self driving cars,now i know the lunatics have finally taken over.

Johnfrog    on 29 April 2021

The transport authorities in the UK seem to be run by i****s who are determined to kill us all. Firstly, Smart Motorways (all about money not safety) now they think driving at 37mph on a motorway is acceptable. Try doing that and the Police are likely to fine you unless you have valid excuse (eg car’s ECU has gone into limp mode).

Johnfrog    on 29 April 2021

Question for the forum moderator- why is “i****s “ censored but not “lunatic “? Can’t see any difference.

Xileno    on 30 April 2021

Forum moderation is not discussed on the website but you are welcome to email if you wish.

HJ Moderating Team

robert battley    on 29 April 2021

i dont see a problem , the way some drivers behave i thought self driving cars had been around for some time and normal cars have to avoid them,and as for driving at 37 mph on a motorway i suppose you could blame limp mode which is a mental disorder around my way not a car problem , or maybe i should get a copy of the new highway code that says 1 do not signal at roundabouts 2 stop abruptly at give way markings 3 park on pavements to allow more room for others 4 if a roundabout is busy you may stop on roundabout and flash another car to enter the roundabout 5 if you are following a lorry on a two lane motor way and want to overtake do not signal do not accelerate to much other drivers will avoid you 6 if a motorway is busy you may do 60 mph in the third lane others will undertake when there is a gap, mmmm maybe driverless cars could have somthing going for them , all of the above i have seen and wonder who the hell passes these people in driving tests, but i do agree alot of this is utter lunacy

Johnfrog    on 29 April 2021

Robert Battley as a qualified Advanced Driver with 45 years experience I could add another 10 items to your list. I take back the comment that the Police will probably fine you for doing 37 on a motorway. The Police forces have been decimated by government cuts so the roads are now lawless places where bad driving is rarely prosecuted and offenders know this. The Highways Agency is replacing good old fashioned effective but costly hands on policing by automated systems and a handful of staff in control rooms that can’t prevent bad driving or crashes on Smart Motorways

Norwblue    on 29 April 2021

When someone can explain how a self driving car will reverse 50 yards down a single track rural road and find a suitable passing place when faced with a combine harvester, I may start to take the idea seriously. Has anyone worked out how a self driving car will safely turn a corner or reverse when towing a caravan or trailer?

The other source of scepticism is the reliance on GPS. Think of the chaos that could be caused in a city by someone with a GPS jammer.

jchinuk    on 30 April 2021

" able take over when requested by the system within 10 seconds..."

At 37mph you travel around 160 metres in 10 seconds, that's over 40 car lengths.

10 seconds seems excessive.

Clarescott    on 30 April 2021

If they're granted type approval and there's no evidence to challenge the vehicle's ability to self-drive, these cars could be allowed to operate independently of the driver on motorways at speeds of less than 37mph by the end of 2021.

I've copied the above from this article.

I once had to drive at 50mph on a motorway until I could get off it. That was very scary! Lorries and other vehicles, came up behind me doing 60 - 70mph and didn't realise till the last minute how slow I was going. Very dangerous.

So if it's dangerous to drive at 50mph on a Motorway, then to drive at 37mph or under is lunacy and will cause a major accident!

Self driving cars and smart motorways are not smart, they're both a recipe for disaster

David Dana    on 30 April 2021

Parts of the A1 are two lane and classed as motorways. Tractors travelling at 30mph cause a mobile road block that backs up traffic with HGVs pulling out to overtake. Cars travelling at 37mph will cause even greater problems with HGVs taking even longer to pass. I have been limited to 50mph for a short distance on the A1 as a result of having to use a spare wheel and was very worried about HGVs coming very close before pulling out not realising my speed. Where does the government find these 'advisors'?

paul mack    on 30 April 2021

NOTHING EVER surprises me these days, as has been mentioned, ‘SMART’ Motorways, driving at 37mph on a MOTORWAY, what next from Mr TRANSPORT ‘LUNATIC’ Secretary Shapps?
Maybe ELECTRIC SCOOTERS or cyclists!!

ABSOLUTE MADNESS, the only good that can come from is this is the recent uproar against 70+year old drivers, this will of course be done away with now due to folk sleeping in their driverless cars!,
The Government and its so call Safety experts have lost the plot for all the reasons mentioned by myself and others on the forum.

Nb Does Honest Johns team pass such comments on to these Government ‘Safety’ Guru’s?
That said, they’ll be too thick to digest such common sense points.

I think I’ll take flying lessons!!!!

Paul Jenkinz    4 days ago

dont see the point of a self driving car anyway

Add a comment


Value my car