Hands-Free Driving to be Allowed on UK Roads This Year


‘Self-driving’ cars are set to become legal on roads in the UK by the end of 2021, according to the Government.

The Department for Transport has said new legislation is being put forward that will allow hands-free driving using automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) technology.

The current proposal is limited to autonomous cars with ALKS technology and adaptive cruise control. ALKS controls the position and speed of a car in a single lane.

The new law would allow drivers in autonomous cars to take their hands off the steering wheel for prolonged periods and allow the ALKS and adaptive cruise control to take over the driving of the vehicle.

Cars could only be driven hands-free on motorways and only at speeds up to 37mph.

Drivers must, however, continue to be alert and ready to resume control within 10 seconds of being alerted by the system. Failure to respond to the alert will trigger the system to automatically slow the vehicle down and set off the hazard lights.

The technology could improve road safety by reducing human error, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said.

But concerns have been raised by insurers and motoring safety bodies about defining ALKS and adaptive cruise control systems as ‘self-driving’ as opposed to ‘assisted driving systems’, since this technology relies on the driver to take back control.

However, following a consultation last year, the Government has said that vehicles with ALKS technology can be legally defined as self-driving, “as long as they receive GB type approval and that there is no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.”

The UK’s Automobile Association (AA) has remained cautious on the proposals, and pointing to gaps in how this technology detects and stops if the vehicle is involved in a collision and to question marks over how drivers will be fully informed how these systems work. It also stated more needs to be done to rigorously test these systems before they are used on UK roads.

The Highway Code is now consulting on what rules will be put into new laws to make sure the technology is safely used.


Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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