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Safety Fears: Hands-Free Motorway Driving From 2021 In UK?

By Stephen Turvil | November 3, 2020


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Motorists’ lives at risk if vehicles are permitted to steer themselves on motorways from 2021, safety expert warns

Safety Fears: Hands-Free Motorway Driving From 2021 In UK?

Warning! The Government’s plan to lets vehicles steer themselves on motorways from spring 2021 ‘puts lives at risk’ and must be postponed, Thatcham Research emphasised. Why? Because, it suggested, the automated lane keeping systems have ‘significant performance limitations’ that might cause fatal collisions. Thatcham’s Director of Research, Matthew Avery, warned: 

‘Motorists could feasibly watch television in their cars because they believe a automated lane keeping system can be completely trusted to do the job of a human driver. That is not reality’, Mr Avery claimed. Thatcham Research therefore revealed which scenarios it believes the technology cannot be trusted.

Safety Fears: Hands-Free Motorway Driving From 2021 In UK? Image


In the United Kingdom, debris caused eleven major accidents on motorways in 2019, Thatcham revealed. It added that an automated lane keeping system ‘may not see’ debris on the carriageway. The vehicle might therefore ‘continue in its lane at speed’. Thatcham, in contrast, added that an attentive driver should spot the debris then ‘attempt to move around it by safely changing lane’. 


The number of pedestrians killed on the motorways is increasing, Thatcham revealed. ‘If a pedestrian encroaches the carriageway while emerging from a broken vehicle, a human driver would slow to a safe speed or move out the lane to avoid conflict’, it suggested. However, an automated lane keeping system cannot take such precautions. Why? Because it is not capable of changing lane.

Lane closure

Safety Fears: Hands-Free Motorway Driving From 2021 In UK? Image

An automated lane keeping system ‘may not recognise a closed lane’ on a smart motorway, Thatcham said. Even if it does, it ‘can only stop’ as it cannot change lane. Stopping creates an ‘additional hazard’. In 2019, there were seventy collisions caused by cars driving through a closed smart motorway lane. 

Technology not ready

Thatcham Director of Research, Matthew Avery, therefore suggested the technology is not ready for roads in the United Kingdom. ‘Automated lane keeping system technology requires a quantum leap in development to be able to cope with these very real scenarios safely’, he emphasised. For starters, ‘sensors are only able to monitor a relatively short distance up the carriageway’.

‘Our conclusion is that lane keeping technology is not safe enough to be classified as automated. We believe it should be regarded as assisted technology because the driver has to stay alert. The Government’s proposed timeline (2021) for the introduction of automated technology must be revised. It is simply not safe and its introduction will put lives at risk’, Mr Avery concluded. 

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