The debate surrounding assisted and automated driving is nothing new, but a fresh development in the UK is leaving certain stakeholders, including insurers, apprehensive.
“Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) as currently proposed by the government are not automated,” stressed Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, when the latter issued a joint release with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in response to a government announcement outlining how ALKS-fitted vehicles could be legally defined as self-driving.
“They are assisted driving systems as they rely on the driver to take back control. Aside from the lack of technical capabilities, by calling ALKS automated our concern also is that the UK government is contributing to the confusion and frequent misuse of assisted driving systems that have unfortunately already led to many tragic deaths.”
The government, in its announcement yesterday, referred to ALKS as an example of self-driving technology, with the Department for Transport saying motorists could see self-driving vehicles on British roads for the first time later this year.
For the ABI and Thatcham Research, though, there are certain “non-negotiable” criteria that must be met if ALKS were to be classified as automated, including systems’ ability to recognise UK road signs and to find a safe harbour at the side of the road.
“While the insurance industry fully supports the development towards more automated vehicles, drivers must not be given unrealistic expectations about a system’s capability,” stated ABI assistant director and general insurance policy head Mark Shepherd.
“It is vital that Automated Lane Keeping Systems, which rely on the driver to take back control, are not classed as automated, but as assisted systems. By keeping this distinction clear we can help ensure that the rules around ALKS are appropriate and put driver and passenger safety first.”
Shepherd added that Thatcham Research – which was set up in 1969 by the motor insurance industry with the aim of containing or reducing claims costs while maintaining safety standards – has identified “concerning” scenarios where ALKS may not operate safely without driver intervention.
Supporting the above sentiments, QBE’s UK motor underwriting director Jon Dye commented: “We echo the response from the ABI and Thatcham to the UK government’s announcement around paving the way for automated driving. There is still a lot of work to do to make sure this will ultimately increase safety on our roads rather than having the potential to cause new risks and confusion to drivers.
“It is vital that users of Automatic Lane Keeping Systems are not under the impression that these vehicles are capable of doing more than they are able. As the ABI and Thatcham point out, they are assisted driving systems as they rely on the driver to take back control and it is therefore inaccurate to classify them as automated.”
Dye went on to note that while QBE “absolutely” backs the development of this technology, it needs to be done in a safe environment. He said all potential risks have to be addressed first before new technology is put on the road and classifying vehicles as automated should not be rushed.
Similarly, Allianz UK commercial motor head Gerry Ross declared: “While we welcome improvements to vehicle technology, and there are many exciting advancements on the horizon, we would urge caution with regards to definitions of autonomous driving. ALKS is not a fully autonomous system and if introduced on UK roads, drivers need to be fully aware of the limitations.
“Although drivers can take their hands off the wheel, they’ll still be required to take over the system within a 10-second period, which means they still need to be alert and aware of their environment. We are at a crossroads of public perception, and education is going to be a crucial factor in how successful, and safe, the rollout of these types of technologies is.”