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What’s next for the future of driverless and autonomous cars?

Jan 24, 2019

Developments in driverless and autonomous cars have dominated the news in recent years with many believing that we are about to see one of the biggest changes ever seen in the world of cars.

In this, our latest blog, we thought we’d take a look at where we currently are when it comes to autonomous cars technology and what the future could look like.

What is the current situation for autonomous car technology?

It’s initially important to understand where we currently are with regards to autonomous car technology. Many are keen to express that there are 5 levels of automation – with level 1 being the least automated and level 5 being the most advanced. When considering the current situation of autonomous car technology in the UK, it would appear that we are currently at level 2.

Level 1 automation is more commonplace and means that a single element of the driving experience is automated, including technology like lane assist or cruise control. Whilst level 2 technology is now seen on many vehicles across the UK and means that computer technology has the ability to take over two or more processes from the driver – this can include autonomous technology such as self-parking and lane change features.

How do we get to the next level of automation in the future?

There’s been much expectation that vehicles with a level 3 automation will be on our roads by 2020. Level 3 technology means that vehicles with this level of automation have enough technology to take control of safety critical functions. However, it is made clear that the driver is required to be on standby to take control back at any given moment. Audi state that their A8 is one of the first cars to show this technology however, UK laws don’t currently allow this technology to be used on UK roads.

Some have expressed concerns over this level of automation stating it could be confusing for the driver to have the car take control at times. With the driver potentially being required to take back control at a moment notice, it’s important that the driver doesn’t totally relinquish concentration on the road – something which could happen if you believe the car is in control. Likewise, the speed at which the driver can take back control is also of concern as this may not be quick enough as needed to avoid accidents etc.

We may therefore see manufacturers holding off on pushing automated technology until they are at a higher level such as 4 or 5. Level 4 technology means that cars can be fully automated, but only in certain controlled areas. Whilst level 5 means the vehicle is fully automated in all situations, requiring no human intervention at all to operate safely.

What are the key considerations when it comes to the future of driverless cars?

Driverless cars and the law

As mentioned earlier, UK laws and regulation around road usage need to be reviewed to allow autonomous vehicles on the roads. Current regulation, specifically Regulation 104 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, currently prohibits the use of level 3 automated technology. The Department for Transport announced a 3 year project with the Law Commission in 2018 to address these exact issues so this is something which definitely has the attention of the right areas.

Other reviews are required to look at issues such as criminal proceedings and how liability be allocated in the case of accident which causes injury or death. This may be of particular importance if we find ourselves in a situation whereby automated vehicle and driven cars share the roads during a transition period.

Autonomous vehicle insurance

In July 2018 the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill received Royal assent meaning it became an Act of Parliament. Part 1 of the act covers issues around automated vehicles but ultimately looks to make changes to enable insurers to start to make provisions ahead of automated vehicles coming to the UK roads.

Moving from a human in charge of the driving to a fully autonomous vehicle would mark a huge shift in the world of insurance. Issues around liability and who is at fault for an accident if an autonomous vehicle is involved in an accident is of obvious focus for the industry.

The Automated Electric Vehicles Bill goes someway to modernising insurance rules to accommodate autonomous vehicles but there still many areas to consider. These include the heightened risk of cybercrime when vehicles are connected and reliant on data as well as determining whether insurers will have access to the data from vehicles involved in accidents so that they can determine liability effectively.

Infrastructure for vehicle communication

This could include ensuring that the data sharing infrastructure is significant enough to support all of the ‘communication’ that will be required between autonomous vehicles. As well as ensuring that the current road network and signage are all up to date and well maintained – signs in particular have the ability to cause accidents if an autonomous vehicle cannot accurately read and interpret the sign.

Overall the future for driverless cars looks positive with the right level of commitment from all parties – the government, car manufacturers and insurers. However, the speed with which we get to a position of having fully autonomous vehicles on the UK roads is still up in the air.

At Anthony Jones we are keeping a close eye on developments as we understand this is of importance to many of our clients from fleet managers through to commercial vehicle owners. We’ll be sure to post more of our thoughts on the topic as and when there is any news.

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