“Our work drives performance and the safety improvements that are required to ensure ‘Automated’ means ‘Automated’.”

Matthew Avery, Director of Insurance Research, Thatcham Research.

Despite extraordinary global challenges, the inexorable drive towards fully-Autonomous vehicles continues apace in 2020. Vehicle manufacturers and Governments are pushing on with the development of Automated systems and safety features, and the emergence of new technology is likely to change the automotive landscape forever.

Automated Driving has the potential to mitigate human error and drive down accident numbers. For that reason, we’re right behind the safe implementation of this tech.

Yet we must bring the motorist along with us on this important journey. Consumer confidence and trust in new technology is crucial – and vehicle testers hold the key to giving assurance. Assurance that Automated tech works as it should. Assurance that it has been tested properly. And to educate the motorist about the limits of Automation.

Motorists may assume that if their vehicle is 'Automated' it means they can use a hand-held device or go to sleep. Under current road traffic laws, this would still be illegal.

The formulation of transparent consumer test programmes and grading systems, in which users can have absolute faith, are the best way to underpin the efforts of VMs.

The potential arrival of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) is a case in point. The Government is in the midst of a safety consultation to see whether it can be used on motorways from early 2021 and classified as ‘Automated’ technology.

This is a significant moment in the history of the automobile as this is the first time a driver can legally take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel.

ALKS uses sensors to control a car’s position on the road. However, today’s technology still has limitations.

Automated Lane Keeping Systems push the driver support envelope in a big way. But we still think it is misleading to describe them as ‘Automated’, because today’s technology requires the driver to remain engaged while in use. This is the thrust of the consultation submission we’re making with our partners at the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

The broader regulatory environment must evolve to meet the challenges of Automation and the advances in technology that are coming with it. In the absence of clear and prompt legislation, VMs are increasingly forced to seek technical exemptions for their products. This leads to a lack of standardisation which adds confusion to the customer, with different vehicles having different functionalities.

Increasingly, it falls to the testing community to pave the way. Thatcham Research and Euro NCAP launched a world-first Assisted Driving Grading  in September to give consumers the insight they need to understand today’s Assisted Driving systems.

Being able to use today’s Assisted Driving technology properly is crucial if the UK wants to safely realise its Automated Driving dreams.

With that in mind, Thatcham Research and Euro NCAP recently launched a brand-new Assisted Driving Grading system that gives motorists the crucial insight they need to select and use current Assisted Driving systems safely.

Assisted Driving Grading

Education is a key part of the assurance mix – specifically the driver’s understanding of what safety systems can do and, more importantly, what they can’t. Thatcham Research has a role to play here. We believe there is still some confusion around driver responsibility, and accident statistics sadly back this up.

If a motorist engages an Assisted Lane Keeping System on a motorway and disengaged with the driving process to use a mobile device, for example, the outcome is wholly predictable.

For example, debris on the carriageway caused 11 serious accidents on UK motorways in 2019. Automated Lane Keeping System technology may not see this type of hazard and will continue in lane at its set speed, potentially causing a serious collision.

And it’s a similar story if a pedestrian encroaches on the carriageway while they’re emerging from a broken-down vehicle, for instance. A human driver would either slow to a safe speed or move out of lane to avoid conflict. But an Automated Lane Keeping System won’t be allowed to do this because it’s forced to stay in lane and so will continue at motorway speed towards the pedestrian, significantly reducing the ability to brake and avoid a collision.

ALKS-equipped vehicles would not be able to change lanes if there’s debris or even a pedestrian on the motorway.

These two scenarios illustrate the point that ALKS is not safe enough to be classified as ‘Automated’. It’s ‘Assisted’ because the driver needs to remain alert and ready to take over.

That’s why vigorous testing, by organisations like Thatcham Research, is so important. Our work drives performance and the safety improvements that are required to ensure ‘Automated’ means ‘Automated’.

Therefore, the proposed timeline for the introduction of Automated technology must be revised because ALKS is not Automated enough and will lead to confusion and further accidents – potentially damaging the reputation of Automation for the future.

"Consumer confidence and trust in Automotive technology is crucial – and vehicle testers hold the key to giving assurance."

Matthew Avery

Director of Insurance Research
Thatcham Research