Driverless report calls for clarity

AXA Insurance and Burges Salmon have published the third and final VENTURER report, creating the blueprint for bringing driverless cars to the UK’s roads by 2021.

After just three years, VENTURER has not only created a realistic environment where driverless simulations can be tested, but also provided suggestions for new legislation on connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). These are now part of the framework for the government’s Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill currently making its way through Parliament.

Among its conclusions, the report highlights how it is still difficult to understand how driverless technology is defined. It calls on the government and legislators to define the term ‘driverless’, particularly SAE Level 3 (conditional automation), which is the next stage of driverless technology and the one that has the potential to cause the most confusion for motorists.

The report proposes:

Level 0: No Automation: Fully controlled by human driver

Level 1: Drive Assistance: Human driver but includes technology that helps with steering or acceleration/deceleration

Level 2: Partial Automation: Human driver but includes technology that helps with steering and acceleration/deceleration

Level 3: Conditional Automation: Vehicle is in control but with the expectation that the human driver will intervene if requested

Level 4: High Automation: Vehicle is in control and remains so even if a human driver does not intervene when requested

Level 5: Full Automation: Fully automated and does not require human interaction

Currently, most vehicles on the UK roads have a maximum SAE Level of two, however some are more capable than others. When it comes to SAE Level three, there is even more confusion as it’s not clear what technology these vehicles will have as standard, and therefore how much responsibility lies with the vehicle itself as well as the driver.

‘After three years of the VENTURER project we have made leaps and bounds in terms of driverless technology and legislation. However, our final report reminds us that we must not forget the human element of CAVs. Owners need to know what the car is capable of as well as what they are legally allowed to do when behind the wheel, which is still yet to be defined,’ David Williams, technical director, AXA UK.

The report argues further investigations also need to be made into how safety standards will change, including driving tests, MOTs, services, and driving ability. At the same time, certain motoring laws may no longer be needed in the future, while others come into effect.

Other subjects explored by the VENTURER project include how driverless vehicles should be marketed to the public, not as ‘smart technology’ but technology that requires a certain level of human interaction. There are also ongoing conversations regarding the handover period and how the UK’s roads will need to adapt for the continued development of CAVs.

‘Legal and insurance frameworks are a key enabler for the development and deployment of market-ready CAVs. Placing user and public certainty, experience and safety at the heart of legal and insurance reforms is essential to building user trust and acceptance.  It is only by continuing to demonstrate this commitment at each stage of the development process that driverless vehicles will be able to fulfil their potential to deliver safer and more efficient transport at scale,’ said Chris Jackson, head of transport sector, Burges Salmon.