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Thatcham warns carmakers use of the word 'autonomous' creates danger

autonomous car

Thatcham Research and the ABI (Association of British Insurers) is calling on carmakers to be careful how they describe vehicles sold with autonomous features after growing reports of people crashing while over-relying on technology which is not yet designed to drive the car independently.

The risks to UK drivers have been outlined in the new ‘Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment’ paper, which has identified dangerous grey areas associated with some driver support technologies.

These include misleading names, like Autopilot and ProPilot, given to systems by carmakers, how and when drivers should take back control of their vehicles and systems which are designed to work in specific situations only (eg. on motorways) but can also function anywhere.

Matthew Avery, head of research at Thatcham Research, 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.

"Names like Autopilot or ProPilot are deeply unhelpful, as they infer the car can do a lot more than it can.

"Absolute clarity is needed, to help drivers understand the when and how these technologies are designed to work and that they should always remain engaged in the driving task.”

He added: "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.”

To provide guidance to carmakers and legislators, Thatcham Research has drawn up a list of 10 key criteria that every assisted vehicle must have, complementing 10 criteria laid out in 2017 which a car must meet before it can be called automated.

These recommendations represent best practice to promote safety on the roads as assisted vehicles become ever more commonplace.

Thatcham Research is also revealing further detail around a new consumer testing programme, designed to assess assisted driving systems against the 10 criteria. An initial round of tests will take place in summer 2018; six cars with the latest driver assistance systems will be scrutinised.

Key elements of the tests include:

  • Studying the manufacturers’ promotional literature and driving manuals to find out how clearly the systems’ capabilities and drivers’ responsibilities are explained;
  • How drivers cope with enabling, activating, operating and deactivating the systems;
  • Assessment of what happens when the driver is required to take back control, whether routinely or in an emergency (such as collision threats involving stationary and slow-moving vehicles in the road ahead, cars cutting across paths and accidents involving pedestrians)
  • Will the assisted technology always comply with the law, for example adjusting to local speed limits?

The results of all the tests will allow final grades to be generated for use by insurers and consumer organisations and will be published in the Autumn 2018.

Click here for safety and risk management best practice and procurement insight

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