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Changes to The Highway Code will allow drivers to watch TV on in-built screens but not use mobile phones in self-driving cars



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More changes are to be made to the Highway Code just three months after some of the biggest amendments in its history.

The rule guide gave more power to pedestrians and placed greater responsibility on drivers or cars and lorries at the end of January - but now there are more fresh rules motorists may have to get to grips with.

However on this occasion the latest changes are to accommodate the first fleet of self-driving vehicles set to arrive on UK roads.

In January there were big changes made to the Highway Code. Image: iStock/PA/Chris Radburn.
In January there were big changes made to the Highway Code. Image: iStock/PA/Chris Radburn.

And while mobile phones will remain illegal for drivers sat behind the wheel of a vehicle able to manoeuvre itself, there will be a few other permitted perks for those who don't need to take charge of the steering wheel.

The government claims the technology in self-drive cars could improve road safety by reducing human error, which is blamed for around 88% of all traffic accidents.

As a result, the Highway Code is going to be updated to clarify that motorists will not be held responsible if a crash happens when they are travelling in a self-driving car.

Research says mobile phones are distracting but in driver less cars in-built screens could be used
Research says mobile phones are distracting but in driver less cars in-built screens could be used

Being relieved of some considerable motoring responsibility will also give drivers the chance to enjoy the ride a little more - with the rule changes also paving the way for drivers and their passengers to watch content 'not related to driving' in cars with built-in display screens.

While the self-driving vehicle is in control of the journey those inside the car could catch up on their latest Netflix series or favourite television programme but ministers are adamant screen time via mobile phones or taking your eyes off the road to make a call will remain a firm no.

Despite the futuristic technology inside the cars, it will still be illegal to use mobile phones even when the car is in self-driving mode, given the 'greater risk they pose in distracting drivers as shown in research' says the Department for Transport.

It's a criminal offence to use a mobile phone for virtually any reason while driving
It's a criminal offence to use a mobile phone for virtually any reason while driving

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "The Highway Code has been updated a number of times in recent years to reflect the rapidly changing transport world we live in and these latest additions will help us all understand what we must and must not do as we move forward to an environment where cars drive themselves.

"The final part of the jigsaw is to ensure these amendments are widely communicated to, ​and understood by,​ vehicle owners. Vehicle manufacturers and sellers will have a vital role to play in ensuring their customers fully appreciate the capabilities of the cars they buy and the rules that govern them."

The Highway Code changes are being made now to ensure all rules are up-to-date and ready for when the first wave of self-driving car technology arrives.

New technology for driverless cars is being worked on all the time. Image: Stock image.
New technology for driverless cars is being worked on all the time. Image: Stock image.

With technology rapidly developing across the globe, Britain’s first vehicles approved for self-driving could be ready for use later this year. The introduction of the technology is likely to begin with vehicles travelling at slow speeds on motorways, such as in congested traffic.

The government announced in April last year that vehicles fitted with automated lane keeping system (ALKS) technology could be the first example of self-driving technology. Existing technology available on the market is classified as ‘assistive’, meaning drivers must currently always remain in control and responsible.

The technology could be adopted first on motorways in traffic
The technology could be adopted first on motorways in traffic

Designed for use on a motorway in slow traffic, ALKS enables a vehicle to drive itself in a single lane, up to 37 mph, while maintaining the ability to return control easily and safely to the driver when required.

Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said: "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.

"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."

The Highway Code changes are being made in readiness for driverless cars
The Highway Code changes are being made in readiness for driverless cars

The development of self-driving vehicles could create around 38,000 new, high-skilled jobs within Britain’s industry that would be worth £41.7 billion by 2035.

The latest changes to the Highway Code, confirmed today, follow a public consultation launched by the government, which found the majority of respondents were broadly supportive of the proposed changes to clarify drivers’ responsibilities in self-driving vehicles.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: "Amending The Highway Code to reflect the pace of technological change will help clarify what motorists can and can’t do when a self-driving feature is engaged, so promoting its safe use.

"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."



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