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Government gives green light for self-parking cars

Assistive technology such as driverless parking could be approved by April 2018.

By Sabrina Dougall

Self-parking apps could soon get the go-ahead in the UK as the Highway Code is updated to incorporate the responsible use of driverless technology in cars.

A government consultation document seeks to allow the use of remote control parking apps which enables the driver to get out of the vehicle and enable autonomous driving into or out of a parking space from a handheld device. The guide acknowledges multiple benefits of the tech, including a reduced likelihood of colliding with other vehicles while manoeuvring into a parking space as well as reducing time spent searching for a space.

Manufacturers of automatically commanded steering function (ACSF) and related control devices will be required to meet UN performance standards and have a “dead man’s switch” if the tech malfunctions or the handheld device moves beyond 6m away from the vehicle.

Driverless

Honda Sense technology brings the car to an immediate stop if a pedestrian or other hazard is detected.

Draft guidelines state drivers must not “attempt to use driver assist technology beyond what it is designed for” and maintain responsible driving behaviour. This would include the obvious legal permission to remove hands from the wheel while remotely parking a car. The proposed measures could come into force after April 1 2018. The current consultation period is open until January 30 2018.

Authorities will expand the Highway Code to “provide more comprehensive advice for drivers of automated cars and other road users” when “advanced automated systems” including commercially mainstream driverless cars “become available in due course,” the document adds.

As of March this year, drivers caught using a phone at the wheel will be slapped with a £200 fine and six points on their license. If taken to court, the maximum penalty is disqualification and a £2,000 charge. Hands-free devices have the thumbs up so long as there is no handling of the device while driving.

The consultation notes new measures are to “clarify appropriate use of [hands-free parking] technology, rather than to water down existing offences to use of mobile phone whilst driving.”

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However, research shows drivers have become more, not less, confident about answering phone messages behind the wheel. One in five motorists surveyed by RAC in 2016 said they have sent an email while driving and 48% owned up to picking up their smartphone to talk, text or use an app on the road. A worrying 44% of 17-24 year-old drivers have taken photos and video while stationary in traffic. However, with companies such as Apple, Waymo, Volvo, Blackberry and Uber testing autonomous vehicles and Tesla already having released several driverless models, perhaps automation could make safer drivers of us all.

Emma Wright, Commercial Technology Partner at Kemp Little, a technology and digital media specialist law firm: “The fact that the UK Government has recognised the benefits of using this technology and is looking to change the law to accommodate this, is to be welcomed. This does, however, reflect the danger of blanket bans on use of technology. Legal change can never keep up with technological innovation and there will always be an opportunity cost when the two do not align.”

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