Are motorists being dangerously misled by the word “autonomous”?

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Author: | Updated: 12 Jun 2018 12:12

A new paper by Thatcham Research has warned the latest driver aids and assistance features are misleading motorists and causing dangerous driving.

The paper, compiled for the Association of British Insurers (ABI), found that the marketing and application of features that offer purportedly “autonomous” capabilities are giving drivers a false sense of security behind the wheel.

Car makers are lulling drivers into a false sense of security, according to Thatcham Research.

It warned that misleading names like Autopilot (Tesla) and ProPilot (Nissan) are partly to blame, as well as a lack of awareness about how and where the systems should be used, and when drivers should take back control of their vehicles.

Currently, there are no cars available in the UK that are fully autonomous;  the reality is that some vehicles feature level 2 autonomous capability. This means they can use a combination of features such as Active Cruise Control and Lane-Keep Assist to take some control away from the driver.

The risks to UK drivers have been outlined in the new ‘Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment’ paperhew Avery, head of research at Thatcham Research said: “We are starting to see real-life examples of the hazardous situations that occur when motorists expect the car to drive and function on its own.

“Specifically, where the technology is taking ownership of more and more of the driving task, but the motorist may not be sufficiently aware that they are still required to take back control in problematic circumstances.”

Several collisions that were caused by Tesla’s Autopilot system has brought the issue to public attention in the past, while back in April a British driver lost his licence after being filmed on the motorway sitting in the passenger seat of his Tesla while the Autopilot system was engaged.

A Tesla spokesperson said: “Our communications are very clear about the functionality of Autopilot and that it does not make the car self-driving. We’ve continuously educated customers on proper use of Autopilot, reminding them that they must remain alert and be prepared to take control at all times.”

For all the talk of a driverless future, it will be many years before a fully autonomous (level 5) car will actually be available to the public, and the ABI has warned that drivers are still criminally liable for the safe operation of their cars.

Avery added: “Fully Automated vehicles that can own the driving task from A to B, with no need for driver involvement whatsoever, won’t be available for many years to come. […] Names like Autopilot or ProPilot are deeply unhelpful, as they imply the car can do a lot more than it can.

“Absolute clarity is needed to help drivers understand the when and how these technologies are designed to work and that they should always remain engaged in the driving task.”

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

The ABI has previously drawn up a list of ten key criteria that every Assisted Vehicle must have, and is also set to launch a new testing programme that will assess cars against the criteria. Initial tests are due to start this summer.

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