Experts urge caution over ALKS endorsement

Automotive safety experts and insurers have urged caution over today’s announcement that vehicles fitted with ALKS could be legally defined as self-driving.

ALKS
Image by xenostral from Pixabay

The announcement from the Department for Transport sets out how vehicles with Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) technology could legally be defined as self-driving provided ‘they receive GB type approval and that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive’.

Consultation launched on ALKS automated lane control technology

The decision to allow ALKS vehicles on UK roads later this year follows a call for evidence in August 2020.

Designed for motorway use in slow traffic, ALKS enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane whilst maintaining the ability to return control to the driver when required. A consultation on The Highway Code rules has also been launched to ensure the first wave of this technology is used safely and responsibly.

In a statement, transport minister Rachel Maclean said: “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.”

Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) caution that ALKS should be seen as assisted systems and not classified as automated.

“While the insurance industry fully supports the development towards more automated vehicles, drivers must not be given unrealistic expectations about a system’s capability,” said Mark Shepherd, assistant director, head of General Insurance Policy, ABI. “It is vital that Automated Lane Keeping Systems, which rely on the driver to take back control, are not classed as automated, but as assisted systems. By keeping this distinction clear we can help ensure that the rules around ALKS are appropriate and put driver and passenger safety first.”

“Thatcham Research has identified some concerning scenarios where ALKS may not operate safely without the driver intervening. These need to be addressed in the consultation,” he added.

Thatcham Research and the ABI have set out four firm criteria that must be addressed before ALKS can be classified as automated. These include vehicle capability to find a ‘safe harbour’ at the roadside and not stop in a ‘live’ lane, and independently assured vehicle systems that recognise UK road signs. The organisations believe also that the vehicle must have the capability, and be allowed through legislation, to safely change lanes to avoid an incident, and that data should be made available remotely through a neutral server for any incident to verify whether the driver or vehicle was ‘in charge’ at the time of the incident.

“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. “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.”