The roll-out of self-driving vehicles onto roads in the UK has forced changes to the Highway Code - including activities that would have seemed inconceivable in the old-fashioned days of human-operated automobiles!

While autonomous vehicles are not yet legal on UK roads, their arrival is anticipated in the next few years, so preparations are being made now for their introduction. Changes are being made to the Highway Code in response to a public consultation.

Among the changes is the ability for drivers to watch television on a device while their vehicle is in a self-driving mode, although the use of mobile phones will still be banned.

In the first phase of self-driving vehicles being allowed onto UK roads, the vehicles will be permitted to enter self-driving modes when driving slowly on motorways, such as in congested traffic. Drivers with vehicles fitted with ALKS (autonomous lane keeping system) would be permitted to use them at speeds of up to 37mph.  

“This is a major milestone in our safe introduction of self-driving vehicles, which will revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys greener, safer and more reliable”, said Transport Minister Trudy Harrison.

“This exciting technology is developing at pace right here in Great Britain and we’re ensuring we have strong foundations in place for drivers when it takes to our roads. In doing so, we can help improve travel for all while boosting economic growth across the nation and securing Britain’s place as a global science superpower.”

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Manufacturing and Motor Traders, said that the changes to the Highway Code would clarify what drivers could and couldn’t do behind the wheel of a self-driving car.

“The technology could be available in the UK later this year and, with the right regulations in place, consumers are set to benefit from safer, more efficient journeys while the UK will strengthen its position as a global leader in the deployment of self-driving technology,” said Mr Hawes.

Human error is a contributory factor in 88% of road collisions and it is thought self-driving vehicles will make Britain’s roads safer.