Drivers need to stay alert

Drivers need to understand their responsibilities behind the wheel as advances in technology mean cars can do more and more independently, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) will warn today.

The arrival of automated vehicles will transform the way we drive, reducing both congestion and crashes, but there is a danger some accidents could be caused by motorists thinking they can stop paying attention to the road before the technology is sufficiently advanced.

James Dalton, ABI director of general insurance policy, said, ‘Automation could be the biggest breakthrough in road safety since the invention of the seatbelt and insurers fully support its development. However we need to get there safely. The growth in features like automatic braking and lane assistance systems may give drivers a false sense of security that they can relax while their car looks after them. But unless a vehicle is fully automated and able to respond appropriately in an emergency, drivers still have to be ready to take back control at a moment’s notice.’

From 2018 updated regulations are expected to allow some limited hands-off driving on motorways for vehicles with advanced safety systems. In the event of something going wrong, it is likely motorists will have only seconds to respond.

Fully automated vehicles are only likely to be on the roads sometime after 2021. These will be able to complete whole sections of a journey under their own control and should be able to respond safely, without driver intervention, in an emergency.

Only when vehicles are fully automated should drivers consider themselves completely free to do other activities behind the wheel.

Peter Shaw, chief executive at Thatcham Research, said, ‘Automated vehicles have the potential to transform our roads, reducing congestion and crashes. The first truly automated vehicles, where the driver is able to hand over control in a specific situation such as on the motorway, won’t be on the roads until sometime after 2021. In the meantime, it’s important that we do everything possible to minimise the risk of crashes. The danger is that as technology develops, and drivers become more confident, they will start to use it in conditions it has not been designed for.

‘Our clear message is that until 2021, drivers need to stay on the ball and observe the rules of the road. If you’re unclear on the functionality of any feature on your car, then check with the vehicle manufacturer or dealership.’

The ABI and Thatcham Research have established an Automated Driving Insurer Group which brings together 13 leading insurers to look at how key questions relating to automated driving, such as on insurance and liability, should be addressed.