Insurers warn over risks of hands-off automated driving on UK roads

  • October 24, 2020

Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) are urging the UK government to revise its plans to introduce Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) onto UK roads in early 2021 because “it will put road users’ lives at risk”.

The organisations say the government should undertake further work to ensure road safety is fully considered before introducing Automated Lane Keeping Systems.

The concerns are raised as both the functionality of ALKS technology and the regulations under which they will operate will mean that they cannot replicate what a competent and engaged human driver can do and, in the opinion of Thatcham Research and the ABI, are not safe enough to be classified as ‘Automated Driving’.

Thatcham Research has serious safety concerns about the plan because Automated Lane Keeping Systems are largely based on today’s Assisted Driving technology.

“The Government’s plan threatens road safety,” Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research Director of Research 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.”

In a related development Tesla has begun pushing out a software update to an unspecified number of vehicles in the USA, introducing what it calls a beta version of “Full Self-Driving”.  However the system is not capable of self-driving – no currently available vehicle is – and the company warned drivers to monitor the system and be ready to intervene at all times, noting that the system may, “do the wrong thing at the worst time”.

In response to the Tesla update the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would “monitor the new technology closely and will not hesitate to take action to protect the public against unreasonable risks to safety.”