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UK plans for self-driving cars threaten safety - insurance group

Fri, 23rd Oct 2020 00:01

By Nick Carey

LONDON, Oct 23 (Reuters) - British government plans that
could allow self-driving cars on motorways as soon as 2021 would
put lives at risk because the available automated technology
falls well short of human driving capabilities, UK insurance
group Thatcham Research said on Friday.

"We don't believe that this technology adequately addresses
what consumers will do and how they'll use it," said Thatcham's
research director Matthew Avery.

The UK government is due to close a consultation on Oct. 27
that could lead to some form of automated driving on British
motorways. That could include the use of Automated Lane Keeping
Systems (ALKS) that would allow drivers to take their hands off
the wheel and let the vehicle drive itself.

German manufacturers like Daimler AG and U.S.
electric carmaker Tesla Inc have been at the forefront
of developing sophisticated automated driving features that they
insist can be used safely.

But Thatcham Research, which is funded by insurers but
operates independently, said current technology may not be able
to see debris on the road, avoid pedestrians or recognise when a
motorway lane is closed.

"There are liability and legal challenges with ALKS, as well
as safety challenges about your vehicle not being able to do
what an engaged human driver can do," Avery said. "The
technology just isn't there yet, regardless of what the
manufacturers say."

U.S. researchers have raised similar concerns.

The problem for the insurance industry is that if a driver
is not in charge of a vehicle, they would be classed as a
passenger, which would create additional liability for insurers
and could lead to higher premiums.

Avery said that within around five years self-driving
systems will be able to handle motorway driving, but calling
today's systems "automated" is misleading for drivers as it
should be "assisted driving". He referred to accidents drivers
have had using Tesla's "Autopilot" system.

"We've seen people doing stupid stuff with Teslas, getting
in the back of the car when they feel it's automated when its
clearly not," Avery said.

(Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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