‘Automated’ driving plans for 2021 ‘will put lives at risk’

The Government has been urged to revise its plan to allow ‘automated driving’ systems on public roads next year amid fears lives will be put at risk.

The Government is consulting on the use of automated lane keeping systems (ALKS) at up to 70mph on UK motorways as early as next spring, describing the systems as “automated driving” that can take over control of the car.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But safety experts Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have warned that the technology and regulations are not sufficiently advanced to allow the systems to be used safely.

Thatcham says that current ALKS meet only two of its 12 key principles to guarantee safety and should not be regarded as “automated” and warned that they “cannot replicate what a competent and engaged human driver can do”.

“The Government’s proposed timeline for the introduction of automated technology must be revised," said Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research’s director of research.

“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.”

Thatcham pointed to a number of scenarios it believes ALKS are not suitably advanced to deal with, including debris on the road, pedestrians on the carriageway and motorway lane closures signalled by red X overhead signs.

Thatcham argues that ALKS could struggle with issues such as pedestrians on the road and not leave enough time for drivers to react (Photo: Shutterstock)

Current assisted driving sensors can only interpret up to around 120 metres, giving a driver four seconds to retake control and avoid an incident at motorway speeds. Research has suggested drivers need around 15 seconds to properly engage and react to a hazard.

Avery added: “Current technology requires an attentive driver to be engaged so they can re-take control of the vehicle when required. automated lane keeping system technology would need a quantum leap in development to be able to cope with these very real scenarios safely.

“With today’s radar sensors only able to monitor a relatively short distance up the carriageway and automated lane keeping system-equipped cars bound by legislation that will not allow them to change lane autonomously, it’s crucial that sensor performance moves on dramatically before a system can be classified as ‘automated’.”

James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the ABI, added: “The insurance industry is 100 per cent committed to supporting the development of automated vehicles, which have the potential to dramatically improve road safety and revolutionise our transport systems.

“Vehicles equipped with an automated lane-keeping system are a great step towards developing automated vehicles. However, drivers must not be given unrealistic expectations about a system’s capability. Thatcham Research has identified some concerning scenarios where ALKS may not operate safely without the driver intervening. We strongly believe the timings for the introduction of ALKS should be revised to prevent lives being put at risk.”