Motorists could be able to watch a film, send emails or check text messages from behind the wheel of their car within two years, according to vehicle safety and insurance experts.
A new report from the Association of British Insurers and Thatcham Research has suggested that under certain conditions automated driving systems could allow drivers to legally carry out other activities while on the road.
It says that “limited automation” technology that is geofenced to motorways and includes comprehensive systems to return control to the driver could be ready by 2021 but warns that full automation won’t be possible until at least 2025.
While the report contains predictions about what could be possible in the near future, its main focus is on offering guidelines to governments and regulators to help make the transition to full automation as smooth and safe as possible.
It warns that the move from assisted driving (such as adaptive cruise control) to automated driving poses the highest level of risk and could cause a rise in accidents as functionality is limited and systems rely on drivers being ready to take back control.
Increasingly complex environment
Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham, comments, “Decreases in road fatalities have plateaued over the past decade, 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.”
The Thatcham/ABI report sets out 12 principles which it says must be applied to make the move to automated driving safe, including limiting such systems’ use to certain locations, cars being able to monitor the user and featuring robust protection against hacking.
Avery continues: “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.
“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.”
That includes manoeuvring the vehicle out of traffic, with Avery emphasising that simple deactivating automation or stopping in a live lane is not acceptable.
The report also wants all systems to include in-vehicle training for drivers and displays that make it clear whether the car or user is responsible for driving at any given moment.
It also warns that early systems should feature driver monitoring systems and only allow secondary activities such as watching a film via the car’s built-in infotainment system so it can be interrupted if a driver is required to take back control.
Avery concludes: 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.”
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.”