Understanding “Autonomous Ambiguity’


Understanding “Autonomous Ambiguity’

Editor’s note: The only independent publication about parking outside the U.S. is Parking Review magazine in the UK. Its editor, and my friend, Mark Moran, has looked at issues with autonomous vehicles – as determined by Thatcham Research — and allowed Parking Today to pick up his musings, which follow. JVH

British insurers have highlighted the potential dangers of “autonomous ambiguity” as vehicles with different levels of autonomy or driverless technology increasingly become a feature of UK roads, according to an August 2017 Thatcham Research press release.

With international regulators discussing what “assisted” and “automated” (i.e., autonomous) driving systems can and cannot do, the UK Automated Driving Insurer Group (ADIG), led by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in collaboration with Thatcham Research, has released a white paper setting out the latest position of UK insurers.

The “Regulating Automated Driving” paper reveals that UK insurers — including AXA, Admiral, Ageas, Allianz, Aviva, Co-operative Insurance, Covea, Direct Line Group, Esure, LV, RSA, Zurich and the Lloyd’s Market — strongly support vehicle automation in the firm belief that it will deliver a significant reduction in accidents..

However, the paper also reveals that they have concerns about driver confusion caused by intermediate automated systems [sometimes referred to as Level 3 autonomy, per the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as developed by SAE International]. Such systems offer significant self-driving capability but require the driver to take back control of the vehicle in certain circumstances.

Peter Shaw, CEO of Thatcham Research, said: “Vehicles with intermediate systems that offer assisted driving still require immediate driver intervention if the car cannot deal with a situation.

“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,” Shaw said.

The ADIG paper suggests a clear distinction between “assisted” and “automated” driving systems should be made by international regulators currently considering design standards for these vehicles. Therefore, a vehicle should be clearly identified and marketed as automated (i.e., autonomous) only when:


The driver can safely disengage in the knowledge that the car has sufficient capabilities to deal with virtually all situations on the road.

A vehicle has the capability to come to a safe stop when it encounters a situation it can’t handle.

The system can avoid all conceivable crash types and can continue to function adequately in the event of a partial system failure.

Both insurers and vehicle manufacturers can immediately access data to identify whether the driver or vehicle is liable in the case of an accident, without ambiguity.

The ADIG paper also highlights the need for more clarity in how vehicle manufacturers give names to assisted driving systems.

Thatcham Research’s Shaw said: “Vehicle manufacturers should be judicious in ‘badging’ and marketing such systems, avoiding terms [that] could be misinterpreted as denoting full autonomy. Hybrid systems which creep into the intermediate grey area between assisted and automated should also be avoided.”

James Dalton, ABI Director of General Insurance Policy, said: “The insurance industry strongly supports the development of automated driving technology, which we see as the logical conclusion to work over several decades to reduce the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on the roads.

“However, we know all too well from conventional vehicles that drivers often misunderstand what their vehicles can and can’t do,” Dalton said. “Therefore, consistent standards are needed so that those taking up automated driving technology can do so with confidence.”

David Williams, ADIG Chairman and Head of Underwriting at AXA, added: “Autonomous vehicles will make our roads much safer, 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,” Williams said.

Article contributed by:
Thatcham Research
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