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Effective safety systems vital for implementation of self-driving cars

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Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have produced 12 ‘Guardian Angel’ guidelines designed to minimise bumps in the road on the journey towards fully autonomous driving.

Transitioning from assisted to autonomous driving is seen to be an area of potential risk, says Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research.

He said: “The UK Government’s prediction that fully automated vehicles will arrive on UK roads in 2021 is unlikely. However, early automated driving systems designed only for motorway use could be available to consumers by then.

“To avoid introducing a new hazard, the vehicle needs to have an effective driver monitoring system to ensure safe handover of control between driver and vehicle, and that the driver is available to take back control when needed.

"The vehicle needs to play a guardian angel role. This is important because if the system can’t handle a scenario, it can bring the driver back into the loop.

“If the driver does not respond, the system should be able to assess the road conditions, just as a human would, and decide on the safest action to keep the car’s occupants and those around them safe.”

It has led to 12 principles for safe automated driving being developed by Thatcham Research and the ABI, which are published in a new report Defining Safe Automation.

These include: in-vehicle training to ensure that drivers understand the car’s automated functions; geo-fencing to restrict self-driving systems to motorway driving only; and in-vehicle displays to clearly indicate whether the car or user is responsible for driving at all times.

The researchers believe that if the 12 guidelines are adhered to, users during the first wave of automated driving systems should be able to use smartphones and enjoy other leisurely activities during their journey.

Avery explained: “It’s paramount that initial automated driving systems can identify if the driver has become too far removed from the task of driving. This is especially important if the vehicle cannot deal with unplanned situations or when the vehicle is about to transition from the Motorway to roads where automated driving will no longer be supported.

“Full automation, where the driver is essentially redundant and can safely take a nap at the wheel, won’t be possible until near 2025 and beyond, even on the motorway.”

James Dalton, the ABI’s director of general insurance policy, concluded: “To fully realise the benefits of automation, it is absolutely vital that there is a clear definition of what constitutes an automated vehicle. These latest guidelines will enable the safe introduction of automation on motorways from 2021 onwards.

“There must be robust rules regulating automated vehicles, to ensure that users are aware of their responsibilities. 

"While we expect automated cars to improve road safety, some accidents will still occur. All collisions must trigger data to help authorities and insurers to understand what went wrong and so that passengers can get the help and support they need.”

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