British insurers concerned over driver awareness of autonomous vehicle capabilities

13 June 2018

13 June 2018

The Association of British Insurers (ABI), together with the UK’s Thatcham Research, has issued a call to carmakers and legislators for greater clarity over vehicles sold with autonomous driving options.

The risks to UK drivers have been outlined in the new ′Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment‘ paper, which has identified dangerous grey areas associated with some driver support technologies. These include misleading names, like Autopilot and ProPilot, given to systems by carmakers, how and when drivers should take back control of their vehicles and systems which are designed to work in specific situations only (e.g. on motorways) but can also function anywhere.

Matthew Avery, Head of Research at Thatcham Research comments: ′We are starting to see real-life examples of the hazardous situations that occur when motorists expect the car to drive and function on its own. Specifically, where the technology is taking ownership of more and more of the driving task, but the motorist may not be sufficiently aware that they are still required to take back control in problematic circumstances.

′Fully Automated vehicles that can own the driving task from A to B, with no need for driver involvement whatsoever, won’t be available for many years to come. Until then, drivers remain criminally liable for the safe use of their cars, and as such, the capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold.’

To provide guidance to carmakers and legislators, Thatcham Research has drawn up a list of 10 key criteria that every Assisted vehicle must have, complementing ten criteria laid out in 2017 which a car must meet before it can be called Automated.

There is also to be a new consumer testing programme, designed to assess Assisted driving systems against the ten criteria. An initial round of tests will take place in summer 2018; six cars with the latest driver assistance systems will be scrutinised.

′The next three years mark a critical period, as carmakers introduce new systems which appear to manage more and more of the driving task. These are not autonomous systems. Our concern is that many are still in their infancy and are not as robust or as capable as they are declared to be. We’ll be testing and evaluating these systems to give consumers guidance on the limits of their performance. The ambition is to keep people safe and ensure that drivers do not cede more control over their vehicles than the manufacturer intended,’ comments Avery. ′How carmakers name Assisted systems will be a key focus – with any premature inference around automated capabilities being marked down. Automated functions that allow the driver to do other things and let the car do the driving will come, just not yet.’

Other key elements of the tests include:

  • Studying the manufacturers’ promotional literature and driving manuals to find out how clearly the systems’ capabilities and drivers’ responsibilities are explained;

  • How drivers cope with enabling, activating, operating and deactivating the systems;

  • Assessment of what happens when the driver is required to take back control, whether routinely or in an emergency (such as collision threats involving stationary and slow-moving vehicles in the road ahead, cars cutting across paths and accidents involving pedestrians)

  • Will the Assisted technology always comply with the law, for example adjusting to local speed limits?

The results of all the tests will allow final grades to be generated for use by insurers and consumer organisations and will be published in autumn 2018.