Because it is not yet legal in most countries, and even if it were, the technology doesn’t yet exist for a vehicle to drive itself properly and permanently, there are no fully autonomous cars on the roads which are actually commercially available.
However, new legislation has proposed that by the end of 2021, cars that met certain criteria including Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) could be defined as self-driving. This means that drivers could remove their hands from the steering wheel so long as they are in a position to regain control with 10 seconds of receiving an alert, speed would initially be limited to below 37mph, and it could only happen on designated sections of motorway.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders said, “Automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade through their ability to reduce the single largest cause of road accidents – human error.”
In 2014 the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International) released its Levels of Automated Driving standard which identifies levels of autonomy above a standard vehicle, from basic cruise control to fully self-driving without any human intervention.
Level 0 indicates no driving automation, where the process of driving is fully executed by the driver. However, if they are only employed in an emergency, or switched off, a vehicle with active safety features can still be regarded as at level 0.
At level 1, features used in isolation and not together include lane centring or adaptive cruise control – enabling safe distances between cars.
Level 2 vehicles (which includes most new cars) have assistive systems for both the accelerating, braking, and steering functions, though the driver must remain in control.
Some motor manufacturers are also introducing the term level 2+ to incorporate features such as enhanced automatic emergency braking to protect pedestrians and cyclists, active highway-merging and lane-changing, and in-cabin technology to maintain the attention of the driver.
At level 3, vehicles are actually capable of some autonomy in specific conditions though drivers must still remain able to resume control within a few seconds of being alerted. This level includes cars with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) approval.
Level 4 autonomous vehicles, though not expected to operate everywhere and in all conditions, do not require the driver to retake control and will be able to pull over themselves, safely and independently. However, additional challenges such as intricate and complex road networks suggest that UK-legal level 4 autonomy is some way off or possibly even unachievable.
More futuristically, in theory, level 5 autonomous vehicles absolve people of all driving responsibility and vehicle control as the vehicles will be fully independent in all conditions.
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