(Pocket-lint) - The UK Government is looking at the changes needed for "self-driving" cars to be permitted on the UK's roads. It's likely that such cars will be permitted on the roads by the end of 2021, following the consultation which was announced in August 2020.
Before you imagine a world of cars driving themselves all over the place, there's a lot of small print to take into consideration.
There's the definition of "self-driving" for example. The Government is starting with automated lane keeping systems (AKLS) a common feature found on many cars. Nissan's ProPilot and Tesla's Autopilot both offer such a system, where the car can track around a corner, keeping in lanes while keeping distance from other vehicles.
This is known as "level 2" autonomy, with a full scale of what the driver needs to do and what the car can do. It means the car is capable of hands-off driving, but not eyes-off, so you still need to be alert and ready to take over when needed.
However while those systems are already in place and in use already, anyone using such driver assistance functions is permitted, by law, to be fully concentrating on the road and to keep their hands on the wheel. Indeed, if you remove your hands from the wheel, you'll be alerted to the fact and the system will be disengaged, forcing you to take back control.
Additionally, what the UK Government is proposing is a 37mph limit for such systems on the motorway, so you can't jump in your car, tell it you're going to Bristol and go to sleep.
So to a certain extent, defining such as system as "self-driving" might be confusing for some motorists - and we've already seen much misinterpretation of systems like Tesla's Autopilot, with frequent reports of accidents caused without the driver being in control of the vehicle.
In reality, this feels like the a small step in accepting that self-driving cars are coming down the road and there needs to be adaptations to the legal frameworks to accommodate that.
There will also be a consultation on the rules in the Highway Code, so everyone knows what is allowed and what isn't - or more precisely, so there's something to enforce if these technologies are used incorrectly.
The announcement from the Department for Transport puts the emphasis on safety, saying such systems can remove human error which is indeed true. Automatic braking systems, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping systems can all play a part in keeping a vehicle safe if there's a lapse in concentration from a driver.
Whether you'll be allowed to let you car creep along in slow moving traffic with both hands off the wheel so you an eat a sandwich, remains to be seen, but it's still going to be some time before you can switch to the passenger seat instead while cruising on the motorway.