First types of self-driving vehicles could be on UK roads by the end of this year

  • Journeys of the future could ease congestion, cut emissions and reduce human error
  • Automated Lane Keeping Systems will be restricted to 37mph on motorways

Motorists could see self-driving vehicles on British roads for the first time later this year. This follows a government consulatation.

Vehicles fitted with Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) technology could legally be defined as self-driving. However, they must receive GB type approval and that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.

No steering wheel

The system is for use on a motorway in slow moving traffic. ALKS enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, while maintaining the ability for easy and safe return of control to the driver when required.

Introducing such technology will improve road safety through a reduction in human error. Statistics show that most crashes are driver errors (85%).

The driver will be able to hand control over to the vehicle. The system will then constantly monitor speed and ensure a safe distance from other cars.

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.

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said:

“This is a major step for the safe use of self-driving vehicles in the UK, making future journeys greener, easier and more reliable while also helping the nation to build back better.

“We must ensure that this exciting new tech is deployed safely, which is why we are consulting on what the rules to enable this should look like. In doing so, we can improve transport for all, securing the UK’s place as a global science superpower.”


Just the start

The hope is for self-driving technology to spark the beginning of the end of urban congestion. In the future, traffic lights and vehicles could speak to each other. This will keep traffic flowing, reducing emissions and improving air quality.

The technology could also improve access to transport for people with mobility issues . It could lead to more reliable public transport services, helping to level-up access for  historically disconnected and rural areas.

It is also believed that connected and autonomous vehicle technology could create around 38,000 new jobs in a UK, worth £42 billion by 2035, with over 80% of the jobs expected to be in professional, technical and skilled trade occupations.

SMMT Chief Executive, Mike Hawes, said:

The automotive industry welcomes this vital step to permit the use of automated vehicles on UK roads, which will put Britain in the vanguard of road safety and automotive technology. Automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade through their ability to reduce the single largest cause of road accidents – human error.

Technologies such as Automated Lane Keeping Systems will pave the way for higher levels of automation in future – and these advances will unleash Britain’s potential to be a world leader in the development and use of these technologies, creating essential jobs while ensuring our roads remain among the safest on the planet.

The UK is already a world leader in connected and self-driving vehicle innovation. British companies are working on and developing the next generations of automated vehicles. This announcement is the first step in making autonomous vehicles a reality on our roads.