Assisted driving does not mean autonomous, warns Thatcham Research

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Use of the word 'autonomous' in relation to new features on cars is lulling drivers into a false sense of security, Thatcham Research has warned.

In a joint statement with the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the automotive safety specialist said it was concerned about misleading names, like Autopilot and ProPilot, given to systems by carmakers.

The two organisations have urged manufacturers to make a clear distinction between 'assisted' and 'automated' driving.

Thatcham Research also announced a new testing regime to assess the functionality of driver assistance systems, and said it will mark down those with misleading names and potentially dangerous functionality.

James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the ABI, said: "Insurers are major supporters of efforts to get assisted and autonomous vehicles onto the UK's roads. Given the part human error plays in the overwhelming majority of accidents, these technologies have the potential to dramatically improve road safety.

"However, we are a long way from fully autonomous cars which will be able to look after all parts of a journey and in the meantime, it remains crucial that all drivers are alert and ready to take back full control at a moment's notice. Manufacturers must be responsible in how they describe and name what their vehicles can do, and the insurance industry is ready to hold them to account on this."

Other key elements of Thatcham's new tests will include:

- Studying manufacturers' promotional literature and driving manuals to find out how clearly the systems' capabilities and drivers' responsibilities are explained;

- How drivers cope with enabling, activating, operating and deactivating the systems;

- Assessment of what happens when the driver is required to take back control, whether routinely or in an emergency (such as collision threats involving stationary and slow-moving vehicles in the road ahead, cars cutting across paths and accidents involving pedestrians);

- Will the assisted technology always comply with the law, for example adjusting to local speed limits?

The latest assisted driving systems appear to manage more and more of the driving task, but these are not autonomous systems, said Matthew Avery, head of research at Thatcham Research.

"Our concern is that many are still in their infancy and are not as robust or as capable as they are declared to be. We'll be testing and evaluating these systems, to give consumers guidance on the limits of their performance. The ambition is to keep people safe and ensure that drivers do not cede more control over their vehicles than the manufacturer intended," Avery explained.

"How carmakers name assisted systems will be a key focus -- with any premature inference around automated capabilities being marked down. Automated functions that allow the driver to do other things and let the car do the driving will come, just not yet."

Is your car equipped with driver assistance systems?

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