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UK insurers warn on autonomous vs. assisted driving

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A group of British insurers warned Tuesday that there may be an increased number of accidents as driving systems advance from “assisted” to “automated.” 

The report, “Regulating Automated Driving,” said drivers may become confused by so-called “intermediate” automated systems, which have self-driving capabilities but require drivers to take back control of the vehicle in certain circumstances.

The study was released by the Automated Driving Insurer Group, led by the Association of British Insurers in collaboration with Newbury, England-based Thatcham Research. 

Insurers such as Axa S.A. and Covea Insurance P.L.C. expressed support for vehicle automation as they believe it will reduce accidents, Thatcham Research said in a statement. But they warned of “autonomous ambiguity” as vehicles with different levels of autonomy, or driverless technology, increasingly become a feature of British roads.

“Vehicles with intermediate systems that offer assisted driving still require immediate driver intervention if the car cannot deal with a situation,” Thatcham CEO Peter Shaw said in a statement. “Systems like these are fast emerging and, unless clearly regulated, could convince drivers that their car is more capable than it actually is. This risk of autonomous ambiguity could result in a short-term increase in crashes.”

The paper suggested that a clear distinction between assisted and automated systems should be made by international regulators considering design standards for these vehicles. 

A vehicle should be clearly identified and marketed as automated only when the driver can safely disengage in the knowledge that the car is capable of dealing with virtually all situations on the road. 

Also, the report said, the vehicle should be able to come to a safe stop if it encounters a situation it can’t handle. The autonomous system should also be able to avoid all conceivable types of crashes and continue to function in the event of a partial system failure. 

In addition, the report said, both insurers and vehicle manufacturers should be able to immediately access data to identify whether the driver or vehicle is liable in the case of an accident, without ambiguity.

“Autonomous vehicles will make our roads much safer,” David Williams, ADIG Chairman and Head of Underwriting at Axa, said in a statement, “but inappropriate use or marketing of intermediate technology could confuse road users and cause unnecessary accidents. Clarity over system capability and commitment to share vehicle data with insurers will help public confidence, and help rather than hinder development in this area.”