You'll be able to watch TV in self-driving cars in the UK - but still not touch your phone - MrLiambi's blog


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Wednesday, 20 April 2022

You'll be able to watch TV in self-driving cars in the UK - but still not touch your phone

The Department for Transport has outlined changes to The Highway Code that will allow drivers to watch content on screens in the car when a self-driving car has control.

The same changes won't allow you use your mobile phone, due to "the greater risk they pose in distracting drivers as shown in research."

The announcement is a nod to changes in the rules that will be needed for those on the UK's roads to take advantage of the technologies that future cars will offer, with a full legal framework expected to be in place by 2025.

There's a lot to unpick here, however. This isn't the green light to start watching Netflix in your Tesla while using Autopilot on the motorway - because the definition of what will be an acceptable "self-driving mode" is all-important here.

Currently, no vehicles are approved for self-driving and current systems are seen as driver assistance, meaning that you still have to be in control of the vehicle at all times. While many systems - from Tesla's Autopilot to Nissan's ProPilot - will offer to take over all the driving for you, you still have to have your attention on the road and your hands on the wheel.

There is a hint to what will be acceptable however: "The introduction of the technology is likely to begin with vehicles travelling at slow speeds on motorways, such as in congested traffic."

Many will already be familiar with adaptive cruise control which will control the speed of your vehicle and distance to the car in front - with some systems supporting coming to a complete halt and pulling away again.

In those situations, under the proposed changes, you might be able to watch something to keep you entertained on a screen in the car. That will make those long holiday traffic jams more tolerable at least.

What's interesting here is the distinction between allowing drivers to "view content that is not related to driving on built-in display screens" and using a smartphone. We all know that using a smartphone is distracting - and even touching a smartphone could see you in breach of the current rules.

So it looks like the difference here is about leaving you free to interact with the car, rather than having a device in your hands and sending messages to your friends. You might be able to sit with your hands lightly on the steering wheel, watching Bridgerton on the display in the centre while the car drives itself.

The big takeaway here is that nothing is actually changing yet. But the Department for Transport is preparing to make that next step that might, at some point, let you take your eyes off the road.

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