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Transition to autonomous driving could increase accidents in short term, says insurers

UK insurers have expressed concerns that the evolution of automated driving technology could result in a short-term increase in crashes.

Autonomous Volvo

UK insurers say full vehicle automation could deliver a major reduction in accidents but interim assisted technology may increase risks.

According to the Automated Driving Insurer Group (ADIG), led by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in collaboration with Thatcham Research, the growing prevalence of assisted automotive technology in the run-up to fully automated driving could lead to interim confusion for drivers, who need to be aware that they will be required to take back control of the vehicle.

In response, the group has published a paper saying that international regulators need to make a clear distinction between such ‘Assisted’ and ‘Automated’ systems, which it says currently pose a grey area.

In the ‘Regulating Automated Driving’ paper, prominent UK insurers say that vehicles should only be marketed as automated if they fulfil a number of criteria, including having sufficient capabilities to deal with virtually all situations on the road and avoid all conceivable crash types as well as being able to function adequately in the event of a partial system failure and come to a safe stop if they encounter a situation they can’t handle.

Peter Shaw, Thatcham Research CEO, said: “Vehicles with intermediate systems that offer assisted driving still require immediate driver intervention if the car cannot deal with a situation. Systems like these are fast emerging and unless clearly regulated, could convince drivers that their car is more capable than it actually is. This risk of autonomous ambiguity could result in a short term increase in crashes.”

Last year saw Tesla come under investigation by the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after the driver of a Tesla Model S in Florida was hit by an articulated lorry while using Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving feature – neither the system, which was in a public beta phase, nor the driver noticed an impending collision with the trailer. The investigation cleared Tesla of any safety-related defect trends and stressed the need for drivers to still pay attention when using the technology, which now uses a ‘strike-out’ strategy to ensure drivers are paying attention.

The ADIG paper also calls for more clarity over the naming systems used for assisted driving systems to avoid drivers thinking their cars are fully automated. In the case of Tesla, the carmaker has come under criticism in the US and Europe for its use of the name ‘Autopilot’, which has been accused of being misleading.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.