Fleet must prepare for ‘brain-off’ driving

Fleet managers could fall behind if they don’t familiarise themselves with the different kinds of autonomous car technologies as they arrive on the market.

This is according to vehicle leasing and fleet management company Arval, which says there will be a series of stepping stones towards driverless vehicles rather than an overnight change.

Shaun Sadlier, head of consultancy at Arval UK, said, ‘There has been a lot of attention given to the recent announcement from Ford that it intends to have a fully autonomous, mass-market car available within five years. This is an ambitious target and it will be interesting to see its progress.

‘While the planned car would most likely be initially operated as an autonomous taxi, this news still strongly signals that existing, major manufacturers are serious about the technology and believe it is viable for commercial use in what is a comparatively short space of time.

‘However, before we reach a point where driverless cars are potentially available as company vehicles, there will be a number of interim steps, and fleet managers will need to know their way around them in some detail.’

He spoke of ‘feet-off, hands-off, brain-off’ stages, explaining, ‘We’ve had ‘feet-off’ technology in the shape of basic cruise control for decades and the arrival of radar cruise is a development that is now becoming available on mainstream fleet cars.

‘The next step is ‘hands-off’ and we are just starting to see this on production cars with perhaps the best known example being Tesla’s Autopilot, which provides automated motorway driving. We expect to see many more features of this type over the next few years.

‘In both cases, ‘brain-on’ remains important. While the vehicle is providing a high level of assistance to the driver, it is essential that they continue to concentrate on the road ahead and the traffic around them in order to stay safe.

‘Therefore the third step, ‘brain-off’, is a major change and to some degree a leap of faith. It is when we will see effectively driverless cars of the kind that Ford say they will bring to production. These will clearly represent a revolution in the whole business of driving.’

Shaun said that the fleet industry needs to prepare now for the ‘brain-off’ stage.

He continued, ‘There are a whole range of people who need to be involved in such a discussion; manufacturers, legislators and insurers alongside fleet decision makers. Certainly, as a company, we are closely monitoring the technology that is becoming available and developing the advice that we provide to our customers.’