Ten features highlighted as key to autonomous vehicles to aid the distinction between highly assisted and fully autonomous cars

A distinction in definition between highly assisted and fully autonomous cars has been established by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), following the recent Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which laid the foundations for fully autonomous cars to be insured on British roads.

The ABI recommends the 10 criteria, which establish the minimum requirement of an automated car, to be recognised by the Government and used by insurers. 

According to the ABI, a "truly automated vehicle" adheres to the following: 

1. Naming: automated capability is clearly described

2. Law-abiding: complies with UK traffic laws and the Highway Code

3. Location-specific: functionality is limited to specific types of roads or areas via geo-fencing

4. Clear handover: transfer of driving control follows a clear ‘offer and confirm’ process

5. Safe driving: vehicle can manage all reasonably expected situations by itself

6. Unanticipated handover: adequate and appropriate notice must be given if the vehicle needs to unexpectedly hand back driving control

7. Safe stop: vehicle executes an appropriate ‘safe stop’ if unable to continue or the driver does not take back control

8. Emergency intervention: vehicles can avoid or prevent an accident by responding to an emergency

9. Back-up systems: safeguards will step in if any systems fail

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10. Accident data: records and reports what systems were in use at the time of an accident

This is the first time in the UK that such a definition has been established since the levels of autonomy were published in 2016, outlining the stages of control that can be taken by a car. 

Ben Howarth, senior policy advisor for motor and liability at the ABI, said: “The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill has a broad statutory definition of what an automated car is. That’s fine as far as legislation goes. What we’ve published are the insurance industry’s criteria to follow on to the legislation, and define the difference between automated and non-automated cars.” 

These criteria have been put in place both to help the Government define automated cars and help consumers know the difference. This is an important and potentially confusing nuance in an increasingly autonomous car industry, where consumers may not be clear on where and in which cars they can relinquish control. 

Howarth predicted that, within four years or more, there will be the first fully autonomous cars, so the time was right to set the boundaries before the technology is too prevalent. “Setting the definition now also allows the public to get its head around what a fully autonomous car is and safeguards against the over-marketing of high-assistance cars being sold as automated," he said. "This is a way of making that distinction obvious and transparent.”

The biggest challenge - "a robust legislative framework" - is done. Howarth added: "The next step is understanding which vehicles to insure under the system and which not to. Automated cars will bring new ways of settling claims - for example, bigger focus on data. A lot of change is coming to the industry, but a lot of opportunity too.”

In his speech to the ABI, transport secretary Chris Grayling said: "We are creating a new compulsory insurance framework that covers the use of automated vehicles and when the driver has legitimately handed control to the vehicle. This will ensure that victims have quick and easy access to compensation.”

“We’ve seen nothing in our lifetimes that can compare with the motoring revolution that’s just around the corner. A revolution that will transform the way we travel, the way we buy, run and power our cars, and the way we insure them. There are major opportunities in this fast emerging market for those who are best prepared.”

Read more: 

Toyota pushes for autonomy regulations tidy up

PSA pushes for autonomous future with AI tech firm partnership

UK Government scheme to boost autonomous car development

UK data project bids to drive down insurance costs of autonomous car

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