Thatcham Research is offering 12 guidelines designed to minimise bumps in the road on the journey towards fully Automated Driving. Developed with the ABI, the guidelines come as Thatcham Research works with International Regulators on new rules allowing Automated Driving Systems onto Motorways.

The transition from Assisted to Automated Driving, where sensors and systems play an increasing role in evolving what we think of today as the act of driving, is an area of potential risk Thatcham Research has highlighted previously. It is in this transition period, where functionality is limited and the driver is required to take back control in certain situations, that the risk of accidents may increase, warns Matthew Avery, director of research, Thatcham Research:

“The UK Government’s prediction that fully automated vehicles will arrive on UK roads in 2021 is unlikely. However, early Automated Driving Systems designed only for Motorway use could be available to consumers by then. To avoid introducing a new hazard, the vehicle needs to have an effective driver monitoring system to ensure safe handover of control between driver and vehicle, and that the driver is available to take back control when needed.

“The vehicle needs to play a guardian angel role. This is important because if the system can’t handle a scenario, it can bring the driver back into the loop. If the driver does not respond, the system should be able to assess the road conditions, just as a human would, and decide on the safest action to keep the car’s occupants and those around them safe.”

Heightened vigilance

As soon as 2021, drivers can expect to share the road with cars operating in Automated mode. However, the first wave of Automated Driving Systems will offer limited functionality restricted to the Motorway and require the driver to take back control at any point.

Avery comments, “Governments and carmakers are keen to promote Automated Driving Systems for long term societal benefit. Decreases in road fatalities have plateaued over the past decade[1], and Automated Driving is rightly seen as a sea change for road safety. However, new and emerging technologies with inexperienced users, in an increasingly complex highways environment requires heightened levels of vigilance from regulators, vehicle manufacturers and users.”

12 principles for safe Automated Driving

Thatcham Research and the ABI have authored a set of 12 principles for Governments, Regulators and Vehicle Manufacturers to ensure the safe adoption of Automated Driving Systems.

These are available in the newly released Defining Safe Automation report, with pre-requisites including:

in-vehicle training to ensure that drivers understand the car’s Automated functions;
geo-fencing to restrict the system to Motorway driving only;
in-vehicle displays to clearly indicate whether the car or user is responsible for driving at all times

In addition, if the driver does not take back control when required, the vehicle must be able to assess the safest minimum-risk manoeuvre and undertake it according to the prevailing road conditions. “This should never mean simply deactivating automation or stopping in a live lane,” comments Avery.

Driver focus

If the 12 guidelines are adhered to, it could be possible for users of first wave Automated Driving Systems to perform other tasks during Motorway journeys, such as texting, emailing or watching a movie. However, these activities should be linked to the car’s infotainment system only at this early stage of technology adoption, to allow the driver’s focus to be returned to the road at relatively short notice.

“It’s paramount that initial Automated Driving Systems can identify if the driver has become too far removed from the task of driving. This is especially important if the vehicle cannot deal with unplanned situations or when the vehicle is about to transition from the Motorway to roads where Automated Driving will no longer be supported.

“Full automation, where the driver is essentially redundant and can safely take a nap at the wheel, won’t be possible until near 2025 and beyond, even on the Motorway,” Avery says.

James Dalton, the ABI’s Director of General Insurance Policy, said:

“To fully realise the benefits of automation, it is absolutely vital that there is a clear definition of what constitutes an automated vehicle. These latest guidelines will enable the safe introduction of automation on motorways from 2021 onwards.

“There must be robust rules regulating automated vehicles, to ensure that users are aware of their responsibilities. While we expect automated cars to improve road safety, some accidents will still occur. All collisions must trigger data to help authorities and insurers to understand what went wrong and so that passengers can get the help and support they need.”