Automated Lane Keeping System technology: The road to driverless cars

October 1, 2020
Ben Pepper - Associate Solicitor the Complex Injury team

Posted by: Ben Pepper


A significant step towards driverless cars is set to arrive on our roads in early 2021.  The new Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) technology enables vehicles on motorways to control themselves for extended periods of time without driver intervention.  For the first time, drivers will be able to delegate the entire driving task to the vehicle.

The Department for Transport (DfT) describes AKLS as ‘traffic jam chauffeur technology’.  It is designed for use in slow-moving traffic and can control the left and right and the back and forth movement of the vehicle.

The system will only operate when the vehicle is in the correct environment and once the driver presses an activation button.  Whilst engaged, the system will be in primary control of the vehicle.  This is different from Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that many vehicles already have, which can only be used as an aid and cannot be entirely relied upon.

When the ALKS is in use, the driver must be ready to re-take control of the vehicle at all times.  The system will monitor the driver, making sure that he or she remains in their seat and observes the road conditions.  The ALKS will also have a data storage system, which authorities can access to see the status of the vehicle when investigating road traffic offences.

The DfT has proposed to allow the system to be used at speeds of up to 70mph.  It is hoped that ALKS technology will make driving safer, smoother and easier.  In 2018, 85% of road collisions in Great Britain that resulted in injury were caused by human error.  Automated vehicles have the potential to reduce this statistic, as they cannot get tired or distracted.

The government’s call for evidence

The government has launched a call for evidence to prepare for the introduction of ALKS.  The views obtained will help shape the legislation that surrounds the system.

Questions include whether cars with ALKS engaged should be legally defined as autonomous under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018.  The 2018 Act requires that the vehicle be capable of safely and lawfully driving itself without being controlled and without needing to be monitored.  If defined as autonomous, this would mean that the provider of the technology, rather than the driver, would be responsible for the vehicle’s safety.  However, under the 2018 Act, if an accident occurred due to a malfunction that resulted in injury to another road user, the injured person would be able to seek all compensation from the driver’s insurer directly.  That injured person would not need to go through the more complex and costly process of suing the manufacturer.  It is therefore beneficial for injured persons if cars with ALKS do fall within the definition of an “automated vehicle” under the 2018 Act.

As part of my role as Coordinator of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyer’s (APIL) Transport Special Interest Group, I have contributed to APIL’s response to the government’s consultation.  APIL’s focus is on the impact that ALKS will have on road safety and the importance of education on how to use the technology.  Concerns were raised about the limitations of the system, for example, how the vehicles will respond to emergency services wishing to overtake and also to variable speed limits on smart motorways.  The ability for the driver to perform distracting activities while the ALKS is in use is also a concern.

The DfT estimates that cars featuring the ALKS system could be introduced from spring 2021.  These vehicles have the potential to transform the way we travel and pave the way for further automation on the roads.  Whilst it is envisaged that this technology will considerably reduce the number of serious road traffic collisions and ultimately save lives, these will inevitably still occur sadly.  When crashes involving ALKS capable vehicles happen, there must be a clear legislative framework in place to protect injured people and ensure that they can access compensation.

Ben Pepper is an associate solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp, specialising in personal injury claims.  If you or a loved one feel you may have suffered an injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact Ben in confidence on 020 7288 4815 or at benpepper@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Complex Injury team will contact you.  Find out more about the  team.

Posted by: Ben Pepper

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