UK insurers want a clear distinction between ‘assisted’ and ‘automated’ driving systems

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UK insurance companies have highlighted the potential dangers of ‘autonomous ambiguity’, as vehicles with different levels of driverless technology become increasingly trialled or deployed on the country’s roads.

With important and wide-reaching changes being defined by international regulators on what ‘assisted’ and ‘automated’ systems can and cannot do, the Automated Driving Insurer Group (ADIG), led by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in collaboration with Thatcham Research, has released a white paper setting out the latest position of the country’s insurance industry.

The Regulating Automated Driving paper reveals that the UK’s leading insurers strongly support vehicle automation in the belief that it will deliver a significant reduction in accidents. However, they have concerns about driver confusion caused by ‘intermediate’ automated systems, which offer significant self-driving capability, but require the driver to take back control in certain circumstances.

The paper suggests that a clear distinction between types of systems should be made by international regulators considering standards for these vehicles. The report suggests a vehicle should be clearly identified and marketed as ‘automated’ only when:

• The driver can safely disengage in the knowledge that the car has sufficient capabilities to deal with virtually all situations on the road;

• A vehicle can come to a safe stop when it encounters a situation it cannot deal with;

• The autonomous system can avoid all conceivable crash types, and can continue to function adequately in the event of a partial system failure; and when

• Both insurers and vehicle manufacturers can immediately access data to identify whether the driver or vehicle is liable in the case of an accident, without ambiguity.

“Vehicles with intermediate systems that offer assisted driving, still require immediate driver intervention if they cannot deal with a situation. Systems like these are fast emerging and, unless clearly regulated, could convince drivers that their car is more capable than it actually is,” noted Peter Shaw, Thatcham Research’s CEO.

“This risk of autonomous ambiguity could result in a short-term increase in crashes. Manufacturers should be judicious in badging and marketing such systems, avoiding terms which could be misinterpreted as denoting full autonomy. Hybrid systems which creep into the intermediate grey area between assisted and automated, should also be avoided.”

James Dalton, ABI’s director of general insurance policy, commented, “We know from conventional vehicles that drivers often misunderstand what their vehicles can and can’t do. Consistent standards are needed so those taking up automated driving technology can do so with confidence.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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