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By calling cars autonomous, are we putting drivers at risk?

British Insurers and Thatcham have raised concerns that the evolution of automated driving technology could result in an increase in accidents due to drivers thinking their cars are more capable than they are.

There are different levels of autonomy:

Level 0 – the driver is completely in control of the car with only warning and alerts to assist in extreme circumstances.  These types of car are rare now and are normally found in high performance cars which is said to provide a “purer driving experience”

Level 1 – this is the first of the assisted driving levels which would normally include ABS, cruise control, traction control – normally these are not even noticed by the driver.

Level 2 – this level involves the car being able to control lateral or longitudinal movement.  For example adaptive cruise control which changes the speed of the car based upon the speed of the car in front, lane keeping assist to adjust the steering of the car because the driver has drifted out of their lane accidentally.  At no point should the driver not pay attention to the road of take their hands off the steering wheel. 

Level 3 – driving involves practically equal input from both the driver and the car.  For example if the car is in queuing traffic the “jam assist system” operates the accelerator, brakes and steering in slow moving traffic.  The driver still needs to concentrate and take control when necessary.

Level 4 – this is the first eyes off and hands off vehicle but at present there are no cars on the market that fit level 4, however with the UK Governments intention to make us a market leader in autonomous cars this should not be long.

Level 5 – The highest point of automated driving where the car controls speed and direction without any need for driver intervention – this would be the ultimate fully autonomous vehicle and is expected to be available by 2025.

Whilst driver assistance technology has moved on tremendously in recent months, fully automated vehicles that can move from A-B without any driver involvement whatsoever are unlikely to be available for many years yet.  However, some of the current models are potentially misleading drivers into thinking their cars can take full control in all circumstances and drivers remain criminally liable for the safe use of their cars; capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold.

The results of tests, which are expected to be available from the Autumn, are likely to be used by insurers to help rate the effectiveness of semi-autonomous technology and could potentially affect insurance group ratings and premiums going forward.

By Jo Elliott ACIIAccount Executive




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