Head of motor Kerris Dale ‘back seat drives’ in a driverless vehicle

20 Sep 2019

BLM partner and head of motor, Kerris Dale shares her first-hand experience of being a passenger in a driverless vehicle.

Last week, Thatcham Research published the ‘Defining Safe Automated Driving in the UK’ guidance for the ABI. The paper represents the views of the Automated Driving Insurers Group which comprises key influencers from the motor industry. The document is intended to provide support to both National and International Regulators in defining what an automated driving system (ADS) is and to support manufacturers in outlining safe automated driving systems.

Highly automated cars are expected on UK roads in 2021. The document, which follows the introduction of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, sets out 12 criteria on behalf of UK insurers identifying their legal requirements for safe automated driving on the highway

As a member of the Automated Driving Insurers Group, I was able to experience a journey as a passenger in an automated vehicle. The latest launch focused on some of the technological capabilities of the car of which safety was paramount. For example, issues explored included what happens if you fall asleep in a self-driving car.

Automated vehicles look the same as any other car and not as futuristic as one might expect. There are necessary steps the driver must follow before they embark on a journey. First a video on how the vehicle automation works is shown, and then a physical button can be activated to begin the automated driving, which allows the driver the opportunity to undertake secondary non driving tasks. The car has a driver monitoring system to ‘watch’ the driver confirming at all times that the driver is paying attention. If the driver is not paying attention, the car has to then ‘wake’ the driver up so that they pay attention.

Trust is no doubt an issue for passengers, but the sensory information and indicators deployed are advanced enough to help allay fears that passengers may feel. Using radar technology, the car has information to assess if there will be potential issues up ahead and warn the driver e.g. roadworks. Safe driving zones are identified in advance of a journey so that in the event of a problem where the driver isn’t taking control to manoeuvre around the roadworks safely, the car has a number of options:

  • If the car considers the driver needs to reengage, it will give a verbal sensory warning.
  • If the driver hasn’t responded to the above, the car deploys further sensory tactics to alert and engage passengers by tensing the seat belts.
  • If the driver is not responding to the prompts, the car will take the vehicle to a safe harbour and come to a stop.

Consumers therefore need to have a very clear understanding of the automated driving capability on their vehicle which is safety critical.

There remain many challenges surrounding automated driving and clarity of definition and functionality is a key concern, but one would hope that both motor manufacturers and regulators will find the Thatcham document of great assistance in defining safe automated driving.

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Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to clients of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

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Kerris Dale

Kerris Dale

Partner, head of motor practice group and head of office,
Cardiff region

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