The Future of Mobility
It’s been a year since Allianz published ‘’ white paper outlining the changes in vehicle technology set to revolutionise our relationship with motor vehicles over the next 10 to 20 years.
Technological and environmental advances have continued at speed in the past 12 months, edging both vehicle and society closer to full automation. From green benefits due to cleaner fuels and reduced congestion, to economic benefits owing to safety and fuel economies, the potential advantages are significant. However, we’re still a way off abandoning driving as we currently know it and the insurance industry will continue to play an underpinning role in current and future progress.
Levels of Automation
As we move to automated driving systems taking complete control of operational and tactical driving aspects in a dynamic environment, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International Standard J3016 sets out six distinct phases that takes vehicles with no automated control to full, and the level of driving intervention needed at each.
Levels 0-2 outline the developments and assistance that technology can provide, yet vehicles within these phases still require a human driver to monitor and manage their surroundings. Level 3, otherwise known as ‘Conditional Automation’, is the first level whereby the system is able to monitor the external driving environment itself. However, this level is still classified as driver assistance, as a human driver must be ready to take control, should the system fail or the need to intervene arise. Levels 4-5 provide much higher levels of automation, as the systems are not only able to monitor the external surroundings but are also responsible for responding to them. It’s only at levels 4 and 5 that the vehicle (in autonomous mode), as opposed to the driver, is liable.
So why are the levels important?
Serving as general guidelines for how technologically advanced a vehicle is they give an indication to the risk profile and how the technology impacts driving risk. As cars become safer, the insurance industry and legislation must adapt with products and services that accommodate the shift from driver to product risk.
However, it’s debatable whether these definitions will be adequate, when it comes to introducing autonomous vehicle technology on our roads. Firstly, it’s unlikely that the practical introduction of this technology will involve a simple progression from one level of automation to the next. Rather, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), it’s thought that road-specific rules may apply, with manufacturers producing vehicles that will allow automated driving on certain roads and not on others.
The SAE definitions don’t cover situations such as this, which are dependent on road infrastructure as opposed to vehicle capability. Furthermore, these definitions may be confusing for the average consumer. It’s crucial that drivers understand the difference between assisted and fully automated driving, when they need to have control of the vehicle and when they are responsible for liability.
The technology timeline: where are we now?
With driving technology currently hovering somewhere between level 2 and 3, advancements will continue to drip feed into the market, with full driverless automation not predicted to be commonplace on the UK’s roads before 2025 at the earliest. A number of vehicle manufacturers are still committed to developing cars with full level 5 driverless automation capabilities within the next four to five years.
Already though, increasingly sophisticated cars have become the norm. Anti-lock brakes and stability control have been mandatory for years and adaptive cruise control that automatically maintains a safe distance from the car ahead is also widely available. Some vehicles are pushing the upper boundaries, embedding more and more remote abilities.
Take Tesla’s Model S. The ‘autopilot’ assistive function allows the vehicle to steer within a lane, manages speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control and can change lanes at the press of a turn signal. Digitally controlled brakes and steering keeps the car on the road, helping to avoid front and side on collisions and parking space scanners mean the car can be self-parked on command.
Additionally, in January 2016, the roll out of summon technology allows the vehicle to be ‘summoned’ whilst on private property using only a mobile phone. These enhancements, on top of advances to speed and battery range, were made using over-the- air, remote software updates resulting in the car becoming more valuable overtime. BMW, Infiniti and Mercedes are also rolling out similar features and models.
Driving the way forward in the UK
The UK is looking to lead the way in the adoption of driverless vehicles on national roads. In the UK, any autonomous functionality must be carried out in controlled environments.
Tesla stipulated that the “driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car” when autopilot is in use.
This should be only in situations similar to where cruise control would be used, with hands on the steering wheel. Further, the ‘summon’ feature should only be used on private property. Guidelines such as this provide a national consensus and regulatory roadmap well ahead of others.
Furthermore, measures in the Modern Transport Bill intend to adapt legislation for the changing risks, meaning the UK is well paced to be at the forefront of developments. Plans for trials on our strategic road networks are increasing; driverless car trials are taking place in Coventry, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Greenwich and autonomous test drives should be allowed on Britain’s motorways for the first time in 2017.
Risk and the need for regulation
However, switching to computer controls needs to be gradual, as tragically highlighted by the first driver death, caused by an autonomous vehicle, in May 2016 where a Tesla Model S collided with a lorry in Florida.
Incidents such as this highlight that autonomous technology is still developing and presents a key challenge for the motor industry: knowing what these systems are actually capable of. Furthermore, as regulations and laws surrounding autonomous vehicles are not yet fully established, the legality of using such vehicles to their full capability is also unclear. Widespread adoption of the technology will require well-defined regulations and legislative frameworks to keep pace with these technological advancements, as well as broad public trust on issues of safety and security.
As we move from little to full autonomy, human interaction will continue to be a very significant risk factor. Already, the internet and forums have numerous stories of drivers behaving recklessly with the vehicle, for example by taking hands completely off of the steering wheel and summoning the vehicle in highly populated areas. Both examples are a result of the driver not being properly attentive to the vehicle’s surroundings, nor safely controlling it.
Clearly, training and education will be essential to make sure those who interact with these vehicles have the appropriate competence and awareness to ensure safe and responsible operation in line with the operator guidance issued by the manufacturer.
An exciting prospect
Needless to say, the current and potential technological advancements in autonomous vehicle technologies are hugely exciting. These advancements will have a major impact to our roads, society and systems, delivering several significant benefits.
Currently, over 90% of road traffic collisions are caused by human error and so the move towards autonomous vehicles will help to improve road safety and reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on our roads. They will also enable better use of road space, through improved traffic flow and improve mobility for those who cannot currently drive.
Clear communication and education to all users and stakeholders is paramount, to eliminate negligence when operating these systems. It’s important that brokers and insurers work closely with the motor industry to help raise awareness and educate the public of the potential risks and significant benefits that autonomous vehicles can bring.