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Warning over use of word 'autonomous' by car manufacturers

Date: 13 June 2018   |   Author: Sean Keywood

A call has been issued for greater clarity about vehicles being sold with advanced driver assistance technology.

Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have produced a paper, 'Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment', which they say identifies dangerous grey areas associated with some driver support technologies.

These include misleading names, how and when drivers should take back control of their vehicles, and systems that are only designed to work in specific situations, such as on motorways, but can also function anywhere.

The organisations say the paper comes in the wake of growing reports of people crashing while over-relying on technology that is not yet designed to drive the car independently.

Thatcham head of research Matthew Avery said: "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." 

Thatcham has drawn up a list of key criteria that it says every assisted vehicle must have, and says it has developed a new consumer testing programme for the systems, set to begin this summer.

Avery added: "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

"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."

ABI director of general insurance policy James Dalton said: "Insurers are major supporters of efforts to get assisted and autonomous vehicles onto the UK's roads.

"Given the part human error plays in the overwhelming majority of accidents, these technologies have the potential to dramatically improve road safety.

"However, we are a long way from fully autonomous cars which will be able to look after all parts of a journey, and in the meantime it remains crucial that all drivers are alert and ready to take back full control at a moment's notice.

"Manufacturers must be responsible in how they describe and name what their vehicles can do, and the insurance industry is ready to hold them to account on this."