Safety warning issued over UK automated driving plans
23 October 2020
Author: Sean Keywood
Plans to introduce elements of automated driving on UK roads next year could put lives at risk, according to industry experts.
Safety organisation Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) say that the government should reconsider plans to introduce automated lane keeping systems (ALKS) from spring 2021.
They say both the functionality of ALKS technology and the regulations under which they will operate mean they cannot replicate a competent and engaged human driver.
Among their concerns are that the system may not spot debris, may not move out of lane to avoid pedestrians, and may not recognise motorway lane closures enforced with red X signs.
The government is currently holding a consultation on its plans, which would mark the first time UK drivers would be legally allowed to take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road.
Thatcham Research and the ABI say that at motorway speeds, the distance at which the system can operate would give drivers only four seconds to take back control and avoid an incident, with current studies suggesting more than 15 seconds is needed to properly do this.
The organisations insist they do believe autonomous driving technology will eventually be at a level at which it can reduce accidents, but say the currently proposed system meets only two out of 12 key standards they previously set out for its safe adoption.
Thatcham Research director of research Matthew Avery said: "The government's plan threatens road safety. Motorists could feasibly watch television in their car from early next year because they believe their automated lane keeping system can be completely trusted to do the job of a human driver.
"But that's not the reality. The limitations of the technology mean it should be classified as 'assisted driving' because the driver must be engaged, ready to take over."
ABI director of general insurance policy James Dalton said: "The insurance industry is 100% committed to supporting the development of automated vehicles, which have the potential to dramatically improve road safety and revolutionise our transport systems. Vehicles equipped with an automated lane-keeping system are a great step towards developing automated vehicles.
"However, drivers must not be given unrealistic expectations about a system's capability. Thatcham Research has identified some concerning scenarios where ALKS may not operate safely without the driver intervening.
"We strongly believe the timings for the introduction of ALKS should be revised to prevent lives being put at risk."