Car insurance firms have called on manufacturers and regulators to agree to a set of minimum standards for vehicles classified as self-driving.
In the week that Transport Minister Chris Grayling announced that the first driverless cars will be in full use on UK roads by 2021, insurers have revealed a list of criteria “crucial” to the safe introduction of self-driving vehicles.
Currently there is ambiguity over how autonomous vehicles are, with different manufacturers offering differing levels of control under a wide variety of names. Both the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and crash safety experts Thatcham Research say this poses a safety and regulatory risk and have put forward a list of 10 criteria to clearly define fully autonomous cars.
“It is crucial that there is a clear definition of what constitutes an automated vehicle. A system that needs the driver to control or monitor the vehicle in any way cannot be classified as automated”
Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research
Ben Howarth, senior policy adviser for motor and liability at the ABI, said: “Truly automated vehicles have the potential to drastically reduce road accidents, cut delays and make it easier for people who cannot drive to get around.
“However, there will inevitably be a transition period from today’s cars to the vehicles of the future, via vehicles which offer gradually increasing levels of autonomy. There is the potential for confusion during this interim stage when people could wrongly think their vehicles can be left alone to manage a journey independently.
“Insurers want to see manufacturers being absolutely clear about how they describe what their vehicles can do – and we think this checklist of ten things which define a truly automated vehicle should be adopted across the industry to help give clarity to consumers.”
Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research added: “The insurance industry welcomes the UK Government’s commitment in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill to create a list of automated vehicles.
“It is crucial, therefore, that there is a clear definition of what constitutes an automated vehicle. Regulators and insurers require this to classify and insure vehicles appropriately, while consumers need to understand the functionality and capability of the vehicle and their own responsibilities. Consequently, a system that needs the driver to control or monitor the vehicle in any way cannot be classified as automated.”
UK insurers are also calling for data on automated functionality to be available at an individual vehicle level, identifiable via the Vehicle Identification Number. This would allow an accurate record to be kept of which vehicles are running on older software or are overdue important maintenance.
This would address one of the issues raised by the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which says that modifying or failing to update the software in autonomous cars would invalidate the insurance.
Matthew Avery added: “Immediate data access will also be essential in allowing insurers to determine whether the driver or automated system was at fault in the case of an accident.”
The 10 key features and performance criteria required of a truly automated vehicle:
- Naming: clearly describes automated capability
- Law abiding: complies with UK traffic laws and the Highway Code
- Location specific: functionality is limited to specific types of roads or areas via geo-fencing
- Clear handover: transfer of driving control follows a clear ‘offer and confirm’ process
- Safe driving: vehicle can manage all reasonably expected situations by itself
- Unanticipated handover: adequate and appropriate notice must be given if the vehicle needs to unexpectedly hand back driving control
- Safe stop: vehicle executes an appropriate ‘safe stop’ if unable to continue or the driver does not take back control
- Emergency intervention: vehicles can avoid or prevent an accident by responding to an emergency
- Back-up systems: safeguards step in if any systems fail
- Accident data: record and report what systems were in use at the time of an accident