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UK will take a crack at regulating future self-driving car systems

The idea is to get ahead of future technology that could start rolling out as soon as next year.

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Are partially automated driving systems "autonomous?" The UK plans to sort that out.

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Numerous questions remain surrounding future self-driving cars, and although we're still miles away from seeing such a machine deployed, let alone an autonomous car on sale, countries are trying to prepare for them.

The UK's Department for Transportation said Tuesday it plans new regulations in preparation for "automated lane-keeping-assist systems." These kinds of systems could potentially let a car control all necessary functions at lower speeds, even in the city. It's probably a matter of when this kind of technology is available, and when it does hit the road, the UK hopes to have comprehensive regulations in place and seeks input from relevant industries.

The current proposal would allow this kind of automated system to operate at speeds up to 70 mph on roads in the country. This follows regulations passed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe this past June, which allows this kind of technology to operate at speeds up to 37 mph.

Perhaps more crucially, the future legislation in the UK will look to either define cars featuring automated lane-keeping assist as autonomous or not. If the country does, automakers and technology companies would be legally responsible for the car's safety since under an "autonomous" definition, driver's wouldn't be the ones operating the vehicle when the system is engaged. This legal dance has led numerous automakers to skip Level 3 automated systems and focus on Level 4 and 5, which would give a car total autonomy and not require the vehicle to hand back controls to the driver in the event of an error.

Essentially, UK drivers would be legally permitted to rely on future automated systems with no penalties, unlike today.

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