Currently reading: UK drivers will be able to watch television in self-driving cars
Proposed changes to the Highway Code are aimed at facilitating the roll-out of autonomous cars

Drivers in the UK will be able to watch television while in a moving car under planned changes to the Highway Code that address the impending roll-out of self-driving vehicles.

Despite drivers being allowed to view content not related to driving on built-in display screens when the self-driving vehicle is in control, it will still be illegal to use mobile phones in the same scenario.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said that research has shown that mobile phones pose a greater risk in distracting drivers.

Other changes to the Highway Code are intended to ensure the first wave of self-driving technology will be used safely, explaining that while the vehicle is travelling in self-driving mode, the motorist must be ready to take back control in a timely manner if prompted, such as when a motorway exit is approaching.

The Code also now states: “While an automated vehicle is driving itself, you are not responsible for how it drives, and you do not need to pay attention to the road."

The Government is predicting that Britain’s first vehicles approved for self-driving could be ready for use later this year. It added that vehicles will “undergo rigorous testing and only be approved as self-driving when they have met stringent standards”.

The first step towards self-driving cars is likely to be vehicles travelling at slow speeds on motorways in congested traffic. So-called ALKS (automated lane-keeping systems) enable a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane up to 37 mph, with the driver able to take back control if required.

The government first announced plans for implementing ALKS widely last year, when it laid out how the technology could legally be defined as self-driving as long as vehicles using it receive GB type approval and that there's no evidence challenging a car’s ability to self-drive.

It intends to have a full regulatory framework to support the widespread roll-out of autonomous vehicles by 2025. It said that it will “help make the movement of people and goods safer, greener and more efficient”.

Transport minister Trudy Harrison said: “This is a major milestone in our safe introduction of self-driving vehicles, which will revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys greener, safer and more reliable.

“This exciting technology is developing at pace right here in Great Britain, and we’re ensuring we have strong foundations in place for drivers when it takes to our roads.

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“In doing so, we can help improve travel for all while boosting economic growth across the nation and securing Britain’s place as a global science superpower.”

Industry reaction

SMMT chief Mike Hawes commented: “Amending The Highway Code to reflect the pace of technological change will help clarify what motorists can and can’t do when a self-driving feature is engaged, so promoting its safe use.

“The technology could be available in the UK later this year, and with the right regulations in place, consumers are set to benefit from safer, more efficient journeys, while the UK will strengthen its position as a global leader in the deployment of self-driving technology.”

Thatcham Research chief research strategy officer Matthew Avery said: “This is another notable landmark on our journey towards safe Automated Driving in the UK. Education is a key enabler of safe adoption, and as such we welcome the announcement’s focus on ensuring that drivers understand their legal obligations behind the wheel of any vehicle described as having self-driving capability.

“Although automation will ultimately make our roads safer, accidents will still occur. Therefore data must be recorded that shows who was in control at the time of a collision, however minor, and this data must be openly accessible to all stakeholders, not only the car makers.”

Global progress

The race for self-driving cars has slowed in recent years, as manufacturers have chosen to prioritise investment into electrification rather than accelerating autonomous technology.

That said, in the UK, there have been a number of self-driving trials in the Midlands which have involved firms including Jaguar Land Rover and Arrival.

Some countries around the world are significantly further ahead. China is one example, having fewer legislatory hoops to jump through as an autocratic state.

The US state of California has also been at the forefront of self-driving legislation, allowing a number of manufacturers to test there. Last year, self-driving car firm Cruise was authorised to offer the state’s first pilot programme to provide driverless ride services to the public.

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Cruise, a self-driving car service out of San Francisco, has been authorised to participate in the state's first pilot program to provide driverless ride services to the public

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Nickktod 21 April 2022

All these semi autonomous (level 2-3) systems make me intensely nervous and this article shows why. It needs to be clearly defined who is driving, either 100% the software with no human intervention required, (or even possible other than ordering the vehicle to safely stop) or 100% the meatbag behind the wheel with no software intervention beyond auto emergency braking etc (even lane keeping assist and dynamic cruise control make me hugely uncomfortable). You should have to come to a complete stop before the vehicle allows you to change modes. Complete clarity about who/what is driving is required or avoidable accidents will ensue due to confusion. I’d love a level 4 capable vehicle for the boring bits but until then, include me out.

russ13b 20 April 2022

Isn't going to make much difference to anything, on a long run people are going to stop paying attention anyway, if they didn't then someone would've put the brakes on instead of doing whatever they were doing while their Tesla slammed in to a truck; hasn't that happened at least twice? When you're on a long journey the passengers always fall asleep, is the car going to be able to tell that the driver hasn't also done that? Interior cameras can't see your eyes are closed if you have sunglasses on. I know that isn't entirely relevant to something that you'd only use in bad traffic, but if nothing goes wrong at 40ish won't they start gradually nudging the speed up?

catnip 20 April 2022

So you have to be ready to take back control when needed? What happens if youve just got to the best bit of the movie you're watching, how ready will you be then? Its a farce.