Autonomous ambiguity a danger to drivers

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Thatcham Research and the ABI (Association of British Insurers) have demanded greater clarity from carmakers regarding the autonomous capabilities of their vehicles. This follows increasing instances of crashes attributed to an over-reliance on autonomous technology, which has not yet developed to the point of driving the car independently.

Risks to UK drivers have been detailed in a new paper, titled “Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment.” It highlights the dangerous ambiguity surrounding some driver support technologies, particularly criticising the misleading names given to these systems, such as Tesla’s Autopilot or Nissan’s ProPilot, by carmakers.

Matthew Avery, Head of Research at Thatcham Research, commented: “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. 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.”

Avery stresses that “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, as the capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold.”

Thatcham Research has released a video showing what can happen when a motorist thinks a car can drive itself, which you can see below:

To guide both carmakers and legislatures, Thatcham Research has written a list of ten criteria that every assisted vehicle must meet before it can be considered automated. It has also revealed details of a new consumer testing programme to assess assisted driving systems against these ten criteria.

The first round of tests will take place this summer. Elements of the test include: Studying manufacturers’ promotional literature to see how clearly the system capabilities are explained, analysing how drivers cope with enabling the systems, and assessing what happens when the driver is required to take back control. The results will be published in the Autumn.

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Michael Dalton
Michael Dalton
Michael graduated from university in 2016 with a degree in Human, Social, and Political Sciences. He contributes to both The Car Expert and The Van Expert.

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