What defines an automated vehicle? Insurance industry proposes clear blueprint

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Author: | Updated: 06 Nov 2017 15:24

As the prospect of self-driving cars on UK roads gets closer, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has outlined a list of minimum criteria that a car must meet before it is deemed to be autonomous.

With fully autonomous cars expected in the UK as early as 2021, insurers are calling on the government to clear up confusion regarding their use.

The list comes as a response to The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill set out last month, part of which deals with the implications for insurers over the liability of autonomous vehicles – something that has previously been seen to hinder their development.

The ABI had previously warned that confusion over responsibility in the case of an accident could leave drivers’ insurance void and with the first fully autonomous cars expected to hit UK roads as early as 2021 is urging the government to overhaul laws to ensure all parties are covered.

This is what defines an autonomous vehicle, according to the ABI.

Read more: SAE automation ratings: What does a driverless car actually mean?

Using research and data compiled by the Thatcham Research Centre, these are the ten key criteria that are required of a truly automated vehicle:

1. Naming: clearly describes automated capability;
2. Law abiding: complies with UK traffic laws and the Highway Code;
3. Location specific: functionality is limited to specific types of roads or areas via geo-fencing;
4. Clear handover: transfer of driving control follows a clear ‘offer and confirm’ process;
5. Safe driving: vehicle can manage all reasonably expected situations by itself;
6. Unanticipated handover: adequate and appropriate notice must be given if the vehicle needs to unexpectedly hand back driving control;
7. Safe stop: vehicle executes an appropriate ‘safe stop’ if unable to continue or the driver does not take back control;
8. Emergency intervention: vehicles can avoid or prevent an accident by responding to an emergency;
9. Back-up systems: safeguards step in if any systems fail;
10. Accident data: record and report what systems were in use at the time of an accident.

“Future policies must cover all parties”

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has confirmed that future policies must cover injuries to all parties where an automated vehicle is involved.

While it welcomed the clarification, Thatcham Research has urged the government to speed up the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, arguing that cars that are purportedly autonomous may lead to confusion.

With many manufacturers planning some form of autonomous tech in the future, clarification is needed.

Many manufacturers have plans to introduce autonomous tech over the next five years

In response, Grayling said that the government was taking time to assess how autonomous cars will develop because it is not fully understood how tech will develop; not an unfair comment considering the vast and varying approaches towards autonomous tech that manufacturers are pursuing.

Ben Howarth, senior policy adviser for Motor and Liability at the Association of British Insurers, said: “There is the potential for confusion […] 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.”

The latest Audi A8 – the closest you can currently get to an automated vehicle?

The upcoming Audi A8 (above) is about as close as things get to a fully self-driving car at the moment, and has been classed by engineers as capable of Level 3 autonomy, according to the SAE classifications, but would it meet the insurers’ criteria?

Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research commented: “It is crucial […] 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.”

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