After a recent incident where a driver of a Tesla with an auto-pilot feature was seen relaxing in the passenger seat, it has become clear that UK driving schools will have to sharpen the way in which they educate drivers about this new technology. That is, unless, they want to face claims against their driving school insurance.
Let’s face it: the cars of today are highly advanced technologically speaking, and they can often significantly reduce the workload of the driver. A fair number of them, including Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Nissan models, now feature autonomous driving modes.
Regardless of how ingenious the systems that control the gap between cars, regulate speed and even change lanes might be, however, the UK government is revising the rulebook to enforce self-steering systems to de-activate itself should the driver remove his or her hands from the steering wheel for more than 60 seconds.
The changes to the Highway Code and new car ‘type approval’ are being implemented to catch up with the latest self-driving technology.
Modern-day cars increasingly feature semi-autonomous driving systems. These often combine automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and self-steering abilities. Critics, however, claim that all of this leads to drivers no longer focusing on the road. The aforementioned driver who was caught sitting in the passenger seat with his Tesla Model S on autopilot had his licence suspended for 18 months.
Last month motoring regulations were modified to make sure all new cars with auto-steering features will visually caution drivers the moment they remove their hands from the steering wheel for longer than 15 seconds.
That has to be followed by an audible warning after 30 seconds – and if the driver doesn’t respond after one minute, the auto-steering feature has to be de-activated. New cars that were sold before these regulations came into effect will get until April 2021 to be fitted with such an alarm system.
UK cabinet ministers want an update to the Highway Code in order to address the ‘grey area’ which has developed around auto-driving technology. The updated code will clearly state: “Do not rely on driver assistance systems such as motorway assist, lane departure warnings or remote control parking. They are available to assist but you should not reduce your concentration levels. Do not be distracted by maps or screen-based information while driving or riding.”
The new code will also advise drivers to find a safe place to stop if necessary.
It also warns drivers that if they are using high-tech driver assistance systems such as a remote-controlled parking mechanism or traffic-jam or motorway assist, they as the driver remained fully responsible for the vehicle, and has to be in full control of all systems at any given moment.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said that self-driving cars had the potential to bring huge benefits such as increased safety, enhanced mobility and reduced driving costs. But, they also added: “The UK is one of the best places in the world to test these vehicles, but we must ensure that robust safety standards are rigorously observed.”
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