UK insurers want to hit the brakes on carmakers' use of word "autonomous"

Trade body argues motorists are being given a false sense of security

UK insurers want to hit the brakes on carmakers' use of word "autonomous"

Motor & Fleet

By Terry Gangcuangco

For anyone thinking automated driving has arrived, sorry but the UK insurance industry believes otherwise and wants carmakers to let the driving public know that.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Thatcham Research have today issued a warning against the use of the word “autonomous” by carmakers – calling for crystal clear marketing and literature so as not to give drivers a false sense of security.

“Automated functions that allow the driver to do other things and let the car do the driving will come, just not yet,” said Matthew Avery, head of research at Thatcham Research.

In a nutshell, auto insurers do not want UK motorists to think technology can drive their vehicles 100% independently when it can’t. More accurately, the new systems provide driver support or assisted driving.     

“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,” said Avery, following recent reports of crashes. “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.”

In the new joint report Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment, dangerous grey areas – including misleading names – have been identified. The paper also delved into how new car types could be assessed and rated for both consumers and insurers.

“Given the part human error plays in the overwhelming majority of accidents, these technologies have the potential to dramatically improve road safety,” noted James Dalton, ABI’s director of general insurance policy. “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.”

According to Thatcham Research and ABI’s report, automated vehicles will be available from the mid-2020s.

“The next three years mark a critical period, as carmakers introduce new systems which appear to manage more and more of the driving task,” said Avery. “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. The ambition is to keep people safe and ensure that drivers do not cede more control over their vehicles than the manufacturer intended.”


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