UK report calls for new standards to govern autonomous driving ‘handover’ period

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The latest report from insurer AXA and law firm Burges Salmon has revealed that new standards for vehicles that can switch between autonomous and human driving will be vital in deciding who is liable for an accident during the ‘handover’ period.

The UK government’s Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill will eventually create a list of vehicles that will be considered ‘automated’, with liability to third parties falling on insurers. However, there will be many vehicles coming to market in the future that will allow the driver to ‘handover’ control to the vehicle and vice versa, which could create a grey area for liability, especially if an accident happens during the ‘handover’ between driver and vehicle. The current law expects the driver to be responsible for the vehicle at all times, which creates issues if there is a time lag in the driver regaining effective control after the vehicle has been driving autonomously.

The report, the second in a series of three looking at insurance and legal aspects linked to the UK’s Venturer project autonomous vehicle trials, recommends that government and industry take account of the issues encountered by drivers during the handover phase. It calls for new standards that reflect the real-world capability of drivers and avoid stifling the development of automated vehicles by unfairly penalizing motorists.

Manufacturers will need to design in safety and develop handover processes that reflect the reality of drivers’ capabilities. Venturer’s handover trials, looking at the return to ‘baseline’ driving across a range of indicators, highlighted the delays expected in regaining full control at different speeds, with drivers taking almost three seconds to do so at 20mph (32km/h) for example.

The research also shows participants driving styles were slower following handover and had a marked delay in achieving normal performance when retaking control at speeds ranging from 20-50mph.

With this in mind, the report calls for further testing so policymakers can better understand human performance under multiple driving conditions and scenarios when considering legislation surrounding liability during the handover period.

The Bristol-based Venturer project is now in its final year and the findings of the third legal and insurance report will reflect on the progress made over the past three years.

“It is exciting to be at the forefront of a change that could have a profound, positive effect on society. People must understand, however, what the vehicles are capable of and, very importantly, what the law allows us to do (or not do) when travelling in them. Handover presents a complication for the basic liability model: how can we apportion responsibility between human driver and the vehicle fairly?” noted David Williams, technical director at AXA UK.

“One of the main conclusions in the report is that while legislators need to take into consideration the handover period while determining new regulation, it’s still important to highlight the capability of drivers and avoid stifling the appeal of the technology by unfairly penalizing them.”

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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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