A series of changes to the Highway Code are set to come into play from summer this year, which will set up regulations to allow for the introduction of autonomous vehicles on UK roads later in 2022.
Scheduled updates will enable drivers to watch television in a self-driving car, though only permitted if the screen is part of the vehicle’s built-in display.
Other changes due from the Department for Transport (DfT) include the ability for autonomous vehicles to drive in a specified lane at up to 37mph without driver control.
The use of hand-held devices such as mobile phones will still be prohibited, and the new guidance says that drivers should be ready and able to take back control of the vehicle when required.
The speed limit currently set suggests that the introduction of these rules is likely to take place when in heavy traffic on a motorway for example, or in certain congested commuter routes.
Technology to enable a car to stay in a lane, and start/stop by itself, depending on vehicles ahead is already fitted to a wide variety of vehicles under driver assistance systems. The rules currently say that these can only be used to assist the driver, not take full control however.
The regulations will also lay out that users of self-driving cars, when in autonomous mode, will not be responsible in the event of a crash, should they have followed the rules. Instead, insurance companies will be liable for any claims, rather than individuals.
The precise limits of automation are yet to be clearly defined, in a manner that will make it easy for drivers to follow and recognise other self-driving cars on the road. There will be a list of automated vehicles from the DfT that comply with regulations, similar to those that are recognised as being available for the Plug-in Car Grant.
The ability for drivers and general road users to spot which vehicles are not only autonomous-capable, but in self-driving mode has not been announced.
There are a variety of levels of automated driving, which aren’t accepted as law, but are a good definition as to how close or far away a vehicle is from full-self driving. These range between Level 0 and Level 5:
Automated Driving Levels
Level 0 – No driving automation. Manual control only from the driver, though safety features such as autonomous emergency braking can be included under this heading.
Level 1 – Driver assistance. The lowest level of automation, the vehicle features a single system that is automated to assist the driver. This may include steering assistance of cruise control. Adaptive cruise control also features within this bracket since the driver monitors other aspects of driving such as steering and heavy braking.
Level 2 – Partial driving autonomy. The use of a combination of driver assistance systems, such as those that can combine the use of lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. Because of the set-up and regulations, these qualify as assistance features, since the driver must keep control at all times.
Level 3 – Conditional driving automation. The key difference between Levels 2 and 3 is that the latter has the ability to detect environmental factors. By using cameras, radar, or lidar sensors, the vehicle can “see” what is going on around it, rather than relying on pre-configured settings or the navigation system. Human override is still required, but the vehicle has greater ability to drive itself.
Level 4 – High driving automation. Level 4 vehicles have the same foundations as Level 3, but have the technology to intervene if something goes wrong, or if there is a system failure. A driver is still required to be present to manually override if required, but for the majority of the time, the vehicle will be able to drive itself.
Level 5 – Full driving automation. This allows for full self-driving capability, where human intervention is not required. There won’t even be a need for steering wheels and pedals, though most early fully-self driving cars will likely have these fitted.