Car insurance experts say new lane keeping tools should not be branded driverless vehicles

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Experts are split on whether ALKS technology, which can momentarily take control of key car functions, should be listed under a new law which would make insurance firms liable for costs. The Automated and Electric Vehicle (AEV) Act 2018 introduced a new form of liability by which an insurer becomes liable for accidents when cars are considered to be “driving itself”.

In their Automated Vehicles: Consultation Paper 3 report, the Law Commission says drivers may not be liable under some circumstances.

They say if a vehicle is classified as self-driving and the Automated Driving Software is correctly engaged, a driver becomes a “user-in-charge” and is not responsible for criminal damages.

Two-thirds of those consulted agreed with the proposals given the human “no longer has any control” over how the car is driven.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) and car safety experts Thatcham Research have strongly argued ALKS should not be listed.

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In a joint statement published in the report, they said the new technology “fails” automated driving tests and “cannot emulate a safe and competent driver”.

They said: “In our opinion, ALKS fails the Government’s own test of whether it should be regarded as automated under the definition of the AEV Act.

“Of the 12 key requirements for safe automated driving set out by the insurance industry in 2019, only two (Location Specific and Starting Automation) are clearly and unambiguously met.

“ALKS systems require the driver to take back control to maintain safety and cannot emulate a safe and competent driver.

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“The technology may have benefits but only as an extension of today’s Assisted driving technologies.”

However, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says new ALKS technology “is aligned” with the rules as the technology ensures vehicles can drive itself under certain situations.

They say the UK should list all ALKS cars without additional tests and checks despite this set to leave insurance firms horrified.

In evidence to the report, the SMMT said: “We believe the definition of an automated vehicle set out in AEVA 2018 is aligned with the requirements of Regulation 157 [The ALKS Regulation].

“A vehicle with ALKS is designed to be capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, i.e. its ODD, of safely driving itself.”

The Government has set out two tests to decide whether a vehicle is capable of driving itself.

The monitoring and control tests check that the vehicle can safely follow a set of guidelines without any human monitoring.

This includes coming with road traffic rules and avoiding collisions which a competent and careful driver would be expected to miss.

This is in addition to treating other road users with reasonable consideration and avoiding putting the car where it may cause a collision.

The Law Commission says when the car “transitions back” to the driver, all activities on the vehicle’s on-screen system will be cut off.

The driver should also be altered by warning signals, flashing lights and even vibrations through the seat.

Motorists should then be issued a ten-second warning before control is handed back to the driver to ensure they are alert and ready to take over.

David Bartos, Scottish law Commissioner said: “Automated vehicles have the potential to transform how we travel in the United Kingdom.

“However we need to have the right regulations in place to ensure we protect the public whilst allowing this technology to thrive.”

“The responses to our consultation, from a wide range of stakeholders will help us to create a legal framework that achieves these aims.”

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