Vehicle safety experts say plans to allow hands-free driving on UK motorways threatens drivers safety
The Government’s plan to allow hands-free motoring on Britain’s motorways as early as spring next year have been criticised following a safety review of the technology being proposed.
Ministers are due to close a consultation next week that could legalise the use of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel to watch television or read a newspaper while the car takes responsibility for the journey.
Vehicle safety experts Thatcham Research say the plans are ‘undercooked’ and the capabilities of the technology is misleading for drivers.
Matthew Avery, research director, said: ‘The Government’s proposed timeline for the introduction of automated technology must be revised. It simply isn’t safe enough and its introduction will put UK motorists’ lives at risk.’
German manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz and US electric car maker Tesla have been at the forefront of developing sophisticated automated driving features that they insist can be used safely.
This week, Elon Musk confirmed the release of a ‘beta’ version of Tesla’s Full-Self Driving (FSD) system, which will be trialed by a select group of customers before a $2,000 (£1,500) update is released to more owners from next month.
However, the beta version comes with a raft of safety precautions and caveats that have brought into dispute the true capabilities the system.
Instructions given to Tesla’s guineapig customers warn that it ‘must be used with additional caution’ and ‘may do the wrong thing at the worst time, so you must always keep your hands on the wheel and pay extra attention to the road’.
Thatcham Research, an automotive safety and security test lab that’s funded by insurers but operates independently, said the technology under consultation in Britain is not yet fit for purpose and threatens the safety of road users.
An assessment of ALKS found they can fail to see debris on the road, avoid pedestrians or recognise when a motorway lane is closed.
‘The Government’s plan threatens road safety,’ Avery explained.
‘Motorists could feasibly watch television in their car from early next year because they believe their Automated Lane Keeping System can be completely trusted to do the job of a human driver.
‘But that’s not the reality. The limitations of the technology mean it should be classified as ‘Assisted Driving’ because the driver must be engaged, ready to take over.’
He added: ‘There are liability and legal challenges with ALKS, as well as safety challenges about your vehicle not being able to do what an engaged human driver can do.
‘The technology just isn’t there yet, regardless of what the manufacturers say.’
US researchers have raised similar concerns.
The problem for the insurance industry is that if a driver is not in charge of a vehicle, they would be classed as a passenger, which would create additional liability for insurers and could lead to higher premiums.
Avery said that within around five years self-driving systems will be able to handle motorway driving, but calling today’s systems ‘automated’ is misleading for drivers as it should be ‘assisted driving’. He referred to accidents drivers have had using Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ system.
‘We’ve seen people doing stupid stuff with Teslas, getting in the back of the car when they feel it’s automated when its clearly not,’ Avery said.
James Dalton director of the Association of British Insurers said the industry is 100 per cent committed to supporting the development of automated vehicles that could potentially improve road safety and revolutionise our transport systems.
However, he warned drivers ‘must not be given unrealistic expectations about a system’s capability’.
He added: ‘Thatcham Research has identified some concerning scenarios where ALKS may not operate safely without the driver intervening.
‘We strongly believe the timings for the introduction of ALKS should be revised to prevent lives being put at risk.’
‘ALKS need a quantum leap in development to be safe’
Thatcham Research and the ABI said they both ‘passionately believe’ in the safe adoption of automated driving technology because it will ultimately reduce accidents in the future.
However, they said the tech in its current form is simply not fit for purpose and marketing systems as ‘self driving’ – which Tesla is currently doing – is misleading.
‘Current technology requires an attentive driver to be engaged so they can re-take control of the vehicle when required. Automated Lane Keeping System technology would need a quantum leap in development to be able to cope with these very real scenarios safely,’ Avery said.
‘With today’s radar sensors only able to monitor a relatively short distance up the carriageway and Automated Lane Keeping System-equipped cars bound by legislation that will not allow them to change lane autonomously, it’s crucial that sensor performance moves on dramatically before a system can be classified as ‘automated’.’
The sensors contained within today’s Assisted Driving technology can only interpret up to around 120 metres. At motorway speeds, that distance allows only four seconds to take back control and avoid an incident.
But current studies suggest a driver needs more than 15 seconds to properly engage and react appropriately to a hazard. That’s 500 metres more required distance than today’s technology provides.
To support the development of suitable technology, both bodies published a ‘Defining Safe Automated Driving’ document in 2019 that clearly outlines the 12 key principles that must be met to ensure a safe transition towards an Automated Driving future for all road users.
Crucially, ALKS only meet two of these 12 principles, thus failing to satisfy key safety criteria.
Avery said: ‘Our conclusion is Automated Lane Keeping System technology is not safe enough to be classified as automated. We believe it should be regarded as assisted technology because the driver needs to remain alert.’
Thatcham Research and the ABI will make a joint submission to the Government’s Automated Lane Keeping System consultation before it closes on 27 October to formally present their concerns around safety and liability.
Original source article: https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-8870375/UK-plans-self-driving-cars-threaten-safety-insurance-group.html
Author: Rob Hull
Disclaimer: This article was not originally written by a member of the HighwaysIndustry.Com team.