Comment: can ALKS emulate competent motorway driving behaviours?

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Following news today that hands-free driving could arrive on UK roads by spring next year, and the launch of a government consultation on the technology, our research director Matthew Avery offers the Thatcham Research view:

“Fully automated driving will ultimately have a beneficial impact on road safety.

“However, serious questions remain in regard to system capability and this still nascent technology.

“The fundamental principle has to be: can the automated system emulate competent motorway driving behaviours? Or put another way, can the machine now better the human?

“At present, UK insurers are not convinced.

“Today’s announcement suggests that Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) could enable hands-free driving on UK roads by spring 2021. Such technology uses sensors and software to control a car’s movements, keeping it in lane at speeds of up to 70mph for extended periods. Although drivers must be ready to take back control.

“It’s paramount therefore that these initial systems have sophisticated driver monitoring functions to identify if a motorist has become too far removed from the task of driving. This is especially important if the vehicle cannot deal with unplanned situations or is about to transition from the motorway to roads where Automated Driving will no longer be supported.

“If a 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.

“With current regulation not allowing these vehicles to change lanes without driver input, a new hazard could be introduced to our motorways. And with the operation of systems being approved internationally, how will they cope with the idiosyncrasies of UK Smart Motorways, for example?

“Liability is another issue that is yet to be addressed satisfactorily. There are huge implications from a legal and insurance perspective as liability shifts from driver to car.

“User confusion, and the scale of the education programme required to avoid it, is also a major challenge.

“ALKS technology is based on today’s Assisted Driving tech – which has already been shown to have safety limitations. There is no clarity on how ALKS will considerably increase today’s performance. Unless these concerns can be addressed, it is the Insurer view that these systems should be classified as driver assistance systems and not be listed as automated.

“Until these systems can comply with the 12 insurer requirements for the safe introduction of automated systems we laid out towards the end of last year, we will not get the speed of consumer adoption and the surety around what we hope will be lifesaving technology.”

Insurers’ minimum requirements for safe automation have already been set out in the document “Defining Safe Automated Driving” which highlights 12 key criteria for safe adoption – read more here:

Automated Driving