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Self-driving cars on UK roads – key questions answered

People traveling in self-driving cars will be allowed to watch television programs and films behind the wheel under new changes to the Highway Code. The UK government is updating the rulebook in advance of the technology becoming legal across the four nations.

Here we answer four key questions about self-driving cars and their future on UK roads.

Can I already use a self-driving car in the UK?

Not yet. Existing technology that assists motorists, such as cruise control, currently requires motorists to keep their hands on the wheel.

The Department for Transport anticipates the first cars with self-driving technology could be permitted for use by the end of 2022. Tesla, BMW and Nissan are among the manufacturers that have released models capable of more advanced autonomy.

What features do self-driving cars have?

Vehicles fitted with an automated lane keeping system (ALKS) will likely be the first example of self-driving on Britain’s roads. ALKS technology is designed for use on congested motorways, enabling a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane at up to 37mph.

The system varies between manufacturers, but generally involves the use of cameras and sensors to keep a vehicle moving in its lane without hitting other road users. It will be a few more years before fully autonomous technology is available.

A prototype Nissan Leaf driverless car on the roads of east London in 2017

Will self-driving cars be safe?

The UK government claims self-driving can improve road safety by reducing human error, which is blamed for around 88 per cent of all traffic accidents. It said: “Vehicles will undergo rigorous testing and only be approved as self-driving when they have met stringent standards.”

The AA said car insurance premiums could become cheaper if there is a reduction in traffic accidents thanks to the technology.

What is changing in the highway code?

The Highway Code will be updated to clarify that motorists will not be held responsible if a crash happens while they are traveling in a self-driving car. Rules will also be changed to allow drivers to watch television programs and films on built-in display screens.

The Department for Transport said it wants to ensure the code is ready for when the first wave of self-driving car technology arrives in the UK. Director of the RAC Foundation, Steve Gooding, said “the final part of the jigsaw” is to ensure changes to the highway code are properly communicated to, and understood by, road users.

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