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Insurers warn car makers not to overstate autonomous capabilities

Tim Maytom

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has called for greater clarity when it comes to the description and naming of assistive and autonomous car systems, warning automotive manufacturers and legislators that overstating the abilities of these systems could lull drivers into a false sense of security.

While the rise of assisted and autonomous driving technology is generally seen as a boon to insurers, with improved car and passenger safety, the ABI is urging caution when it comes to naming contemporary systems, over the fear that drivers may rely on automation for activities that still require human input.

The calls were supported by Thatcham Research, the motor insurers' automotive research centre, which is introducing a new testing regime to assess driver assistance systems. Misleading names and potentially dangerous functionality will be marked down in order to promote clearer naming and marketing.

"We are starting to see real-life examploes of the hazardous situations that occur when motorists expect the car to drive and function on its own," said Matthew Avery, head of research at Thatcham Research. "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.

"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. Until then, drivers remain criminally liable for the safe use of their cars and as such, the capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold."

To provide guidance to car makers and legislators, Thatcham Research has drawn up a list of 10 key criteria that every assisted vehicle must have, complementing the 10 criteria for automated vehicles it introduced in 2017.

"Insurers are major supporters of efforts to get assisted and autonomous vehicles onto the UK's roads," said James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the ABI. "Given the part human error plays in the overwhelming majority of accidents, these technologies have the potential to dramatically improve road safety. However, we are a long way from autonomous cars which will be able to look after all parts of a journey, and in the meantime, it remains crucial that all drivers are alert and ready to take back full control at a moment's notice. Manufacturers must be responsible in how they describe and name what their vehicles do, and the insurance industry is ready to hold them to accoucnt on this."