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Published On: September 3, 2020 | Blog | 0 comments

Can we really trust ALKS?

The government is about to start a consultation into the possible introduction of automated lane keeping systems, abbreviated to ALKS. These are systems which could be installed in cars and which will enable the driver of a vehicle to effectively relinquish control of the vehicle, placing his or her trust entirely in the hands of the ALKS.

At its current embryonic stage, the system would only be capable of use in slow-moving traffic on a motorway, with the system both keeping the vehicle within its own lane (technology which already exists in some newer cars) and also controlling the movement of the car in traffic. This would be seen as a test to determine whether the technology could then be used on roads other than a motorway.

As we move ever swifter into more futuristic times, with technological developments constantly advancing at such a fast pace, the ultimate goal is to get us all to driverless vehicles, the likes of which we have only ever seen in movies. However, can we really put our faith and trust into an automated system? Are we ready to give control to the machines?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SEA) have created automation levels based on how much human input is required. These start at zero, where there is no automation at all and full driver control and operation is required and go all the way up to level 5, at which the vehicle is fully automated but the driver can still control the vehicle if he or she chooses to do so. Again, we are certainly nowhere near that level yet when it comes to driving on the UK’s roads.

ALKS actually fall into level 3, which the SEA guidelines state means that the car is operating on its own, but the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at any moment. Some sort of warning indicator would have to give the driver notice that they need to resume control of the vehicle, but would this be enough?

We have all seen clips on social media of people driving along the motorway using their knees to control the steering wheel whilst putting on make-up, shaving and in one clip that I have seen, eating a bowl of cereal! However, when presented with traffic on a motorway and a car that can assume control from you to get you through that traffic, what are most people who suddenly find themselves hands-free driving going to do? Many will no doubt turn straight to their phones, or engage in conversation with a passenger, or even tuck into their lunch, taking their eyes off of the road entirely, trusting their ALKS implicitly.

What then happens if the ALKS fails, or if there is some sort of sudden movement that the ALKS cannot possibly account for, such as an animal running across the front of the vehicle or a motorcyclist weaving in and out of the traffic at speed? As much as we want to trust technology, we all know all too well that technology will, at some point, fail. In the case of the photocopier breaking down or our laptops crashing, these are frustrating but not life-threatening occurrences. If the ALKS fails, lives could be lost.

The Transport Minister, Rachel Maclean, has said that ALKS could make driving safer, smoother and easier for motorists. However, there will be many who feel that, if anything, the system could create more danger on the roads, as cars operate independently of the driver, who is only called upon if needed. And who decides if the driver is needed? The ALKS.

ALKS also raises an interesting legal question – if an accident was to occur whilst the ALKS was in operation and was caused by the vehicle being operated by ALKS at the time, who does legal liability rest with? Surely the “driver” will say that liability cannot possibly rest with them as they had no control at all over the vehicle at the time that the accident occurred. As such, is the claim to be made against the manufacturer of the ALKS?

Whilst some will no doubt be excited by the prospect of driverless cars, there is no doubt that the ALKS has its risks. Whilst one has to experiment with new technological advances to be able to determine whether they can be safely implemented, this particular concept seems to be particularly high-risk. The question here is, if you are driving along a motorway, even in slow-moving traffic, with your family in the car, would you put your trust entirely in the hands of an automated system which could work perfectly or which could fail at any time? Would you want to take that risk?

*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*

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