Driverless car laws and insurance

The Law Commission of England and Wales is currently undertaking a far-reaching review of the legal framework for driverless cars… and insurers are keen to contribute.

The deadline for submissions to the preliminary consultation paper passed last week and AXA Insurance has highlighted what it hopes will be key themes:

1) Access to data and a transparent framework for effective data governance is fundamental for establishing liability and accurate risk modelling.

2) The legal and regulatory framework must clearly define the responsibilities of the users of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and any changes to the current road safety regime.

3) Consumers must be educated on their responsibilities, how the equipment should be used and the regulations attached to them.

Noting the Government’s recent announcement on the advanced trials for self-driving vehicles, David Williams, managing director of underwriting and technical services at AXA, said: “We are only in February but the world of driverless has started 2019 at a blistering pace.

“It might not sound as exciting as trials and tech, but as driverless cars are rapidly becoming a reality, it is right now that we need think about the legal aspects of this technology. The consultation had 46 detailed questions on areas ranging from the responsibilities of a human user to the need for data retention.”

In its submission, the International Underwriting Association (IUA), which represents many of the world’s largest insurance companies, argued that accident data should be automatically retained.

Chris Jones, IUA director of legal and market services, said: “The technology surrounding driverless cars is developing rapidly. It is essential, therefore, that an effective framework is established governing their operation. Insurers have a vital role to play in this process.

“In order for liability to be established, vehicle data must be recorded and made available. This will include, for example, the status of the automated system, whether engaged or disengaged, the speed of the vehicle and any camera footage from the time of the accident.

“As information expands and usage grows, we are likely to see potential vulnerabilities highlighted and new risk areas emerge. We anticipate that the technology will be capable of self-reporting system errors, defects and other issues affecting road worthiness.”

In a sign of things to come, Bloomberg reports that entrepreneur Dan Peate has launched Avinew, with $5m in seed funding, offering an insurance product which monitors drivers’ use of autonomous features in cars made by Tesla, Nissan, Ford and Cadillac.

Discounts will be determined based on how the features are used, after the customer has given permission for their driving data to be accessed.

This seems a logical next step in telematics or ‘black box’ insurance, which tracks the way you drive and links it to the amount you pay.

In terms of what happens in the event of an accident, a story in the Daily Express explained how a fraudulent claim worth £6,000 was prevented using telematics.

A Renault Clio driver facing a whiplash claim was cleared by data showing that the incident occurred at under 5mph. Martyne Miller, associate director of Coverbox said: “The data was able to successfully refute a substantial claim, saving both the motorist and the insurer money.”

Once cars are fully autonomous, Rodney Parker, associate professor of operations management at Indiana University, predicts that “liability is likely to migrate from the individual to the manufacturer and the licensers of the software that drives the AV.”

There’s also the possibility that motorists could be encouraged out of driving via the prohibitive cost of insurance.

The Law Commission was asked to look at the legal framework for driverless cars by the UK’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), a joint Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Department for Transport (DfT) policy team.

If these insurer submissions are anything to go by, the focus will be at least as much on the connected elements as the autonomous ones.

Will it have anything to say about who to save in no-win crash situations or who should be the data controller?

The final report is due in March 2021.

CASE study: connected, autonomous, something and electric

The motor industry is notoriously fond of an acronym and here’s a new one which might just catch on: CASE.

In this case, C stands for connected, A for autonomous and E for electric, but there’s disagreement about what the S should stand for.

Vehicle manufacturer Daimler goes for connected, autonomous, shared and electric, although if you dig a bit deeper into their website they keep their options open with “shared and services”.

“Each of these has the power to turn our entire industry upside down,” said Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of Daimler AG. “But the true revolution is in combining them in a comprehensive, seamless package.”

Over at car parts maker ZF, Andy Whydell, vice president of systems product planning for active and passive safety, goes for connected, autonomous, safe and electric.

For explanations of other vehicle-related terms and acronyms, see our Cars of the Future glossary.

Must-see video: why is Ford disguising drivers as car seats?

Ford Europe has posted a new video highlighting an innovative approach to autonomous vehicle testing:

Drivers frequently use hand gestures (!), head nods and eye contact to communicate with other road users. For example, to establish that a pedestrian is crossing, that a cyclist has seen them or that they’re letting another car go first.

But how will self-driving vehicles achieve a similar degree of interaction? One idea is to use flashing lights of different colours.

To test the theory without spending a fortune on autonomous tech, Ford created the “Human Car Seat” – camouflaging a driver so the vehicle, at first glance at least, looks driverless.

This homespun method allows observers to more effectively gauge real-world responses.

According to Automotive World, 60% of people surveyed thought the Transit Connect was an autonomous vehicle and turquoise emerged as the preferred light colour.

Ford, in partnership with electronics specialist Hella, is now conducting further tests, including positioning the lights on the grille and headlamps.

Not anytime soon? Driverless cars are already here

There’s a story doing the rounds this week that autonomous cars “aren’t coming anytime soon”.

Well, here in the UK the government is planning public road trials without safety drivers.

In the US, Waymo already has 10 million self-driving miles on public roads under its belt.

Serious issues like who to save in no-win crash situations and reasons to fear driverless: personal data remain, but the autonomous vehicle revolution has started.

A dystopian vision of polluted London

Recycling company First Mile has released this striking image of how London’s Oxford Street could look if we fail to tackle air pollution.

Two technologies being championed to avoid such a dystopian fate are electric powertrains and route optimisation programmes – both popular concepts in connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) design.

However, new research by Adam Millard-Ball, associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California, suggests that, rather than solving the issue of congestion in city centres, self-driving cars could exacerbate the problem, creating gridlock.

“Parking prices are what get people out of their cars and on to public transit, but autonomous vehicles have no need to park at all,” he said. “They can get around paying for parking by cruising. They will have every incentive to create havoc.”

According to Interesting Engineering, his paper, The Autonomous Vehicle Problem, estimates that just 2,000 self-driving vehicles in the San Francisco area will slow traffic to less than 2mph – a nightmare scenario.

Telematics combined with smart congestion charging could conceivably negate this undesirable impact, but the study is grist to the mill for those advising stricter regulation of driverless cars.

Driverless river transport: the roboat

We profiled various “other driverless vehicles” in our recent bikes, trucks, bots and planes article, well here’s another one… and it has a great name: the roboat.

So far, only small prototypes have been deployed but a bigger model with a 6x13ft hull is in development, featuring GPS, water quality testers, cameras and LIDAR.

The robotic boat is the result of a five-year research project – a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS).

Carlo Ratti, of MIT’s senseable city lab, envisages a new kind of on-demand infrastructure – autonomous platforms joining together to form floating bridges or stages, as well as individual roboats being able to deliver goods, transport people or collect waste.
This 1min 43sec video gives an overview of the project to date:

Looking ahead, the team will concentrate on finding ways to account for waves, currents, more passengers and heavier cargos.

The driverless dilemma: who to save in no-win crash situations

Addressing the vital question of what driverless cars should do in no-win crash situations, an AA survey of 21,000 UK drivers found that 59% would rather put themselves in harm’s way than risk more lives.

That seems highly magnanimous, but other results were far from clear-cut. 40% of respondents “preferred not to say” when faced with unpalatable options like running over children or the elderly.

AA president, Edmund King, said: “Of those who could make a choice, a clear majority decided to put themselves in danger, perhaps indicating they accept the risks and potential fallibilities of the technology.

“The driverless dilemma is a common question for programmers of autonomous vehicles, but the number of people who avoided giving a definitive answer shows this is a difficult ‘live or let die’ dilemma.”

The AA survey broadly backs up the findings outlined in Reasons to fear driverless cars – namely that most people agree:

1) Humans should be saved over animals.
2) The lives of many should outweigh the few.
3) The young should have priority over the old.

But it isn’t that simple. The waters get murky when people are asked if they would rather purchase a car programmed to protect them.

Azim Shariff, of the University of Oregon, asks: “Would you really want to be among the minority shouldering the duties of safety, when everyone else is free-riding, so to speak, on your equitability?”

Will all manufacturers apply the same default settings? Should owners be able to change them?

It is a huge concern that driverless cars could be on sale by 2021 when we’re not even close to answering such fundamental questions.

Drink driverless

Being able to have a beverage and leave the car in charge of the journey home is often cited (mainly by people in the pub) as one of the key benefits of driverless tech.

However, according to a report in the Standard, Huawei – the Chinese company best known for its phones – is designing cabin software which can spot if the owner is drunk and call the police.

The reason? Being drunk in charge of a vehicle, even if not driving, is an offence. There’s also a concern about override functions.

The system will compare the driver’s expressions, gestures and speech with archive footage, as well as checking for suspicious items such as open bottles.

Opinion will presumably be divided as to whether this is a clever safety innovation or an unnecessary invasion of privacy.

In another alcohol-related development, Makr Shakr – the company famous for using robotic arms to make cocktails – has combined this concept with an autonomous driving pod.

Digital Trends describes the result as a self-driving robot bartender, basically a mobile bar which you could summon via a smartphone app. Mojitos all round!

Autonomous now: the shift to self-driving

This article, a version of which first appeared in the July 2018 issue of IMI Magazine, was the spark for Cars of the Future. IMI editor, Tim Kiek, said: “I’ve featured articles on autonomous vehicles throughout my tenure but never one which explores the topic with such forensic rigour.”

Autonomous Now… Neil Kennett explores blockbuster themes in the shift to self-driving

In our May issue, Traka’s Paul Smith outlined the six levels of autonomy, detailed how Audi’s A8 and Tesla’s Model S are already around Level 3, and noted that driverless motoring could be a reality on UK motorways by 2021.

Let that sink in for a moment. 30 years ago, this was the stuff of science fiction. Gen X children across the world dreamt of owning KITT from Knight Rider – a talking, self-driving, bulletproof Trans-Am. For many, that dream will nearly come true.

While the leaders in this new wave of cars are ready to roll, a few thorny hurdles stand in their way: the elimination of digital ‘not-spots’; devising a new liability framework; meeting the challenges of a mixed (autonomous and non-autonomous) car parc; and addressing legitimate cybersecurity and ethical concerns.

Then there’s the skills shortage in intelligent mobility; data governance issues; what all this means for those who actively enjoy driving; and the impact on other road users.

Before investigating out how we might get from A to B in just three years, let’s get the acronym sorted. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call them connected and autonomous vehicles, CAVs.

Now for a definition: According to The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, when the term autonomy is applied to a car, it refers to decisions taken by embedded intelligence in the vehicle systems.

This is rules-based software. For example, if the forward-facing camera image contains a pixel pattern associated with a car, and the radar confirms this, and a collision is predicted, then a solution will be deployed, such as emergency braking.

Relentless progress

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” Henry Ford is often quoted as saying. Vehicle manufacturers (VMs) have been pushing the envelope ever since.

A cautionary tale comes from Dan McComas, former senior vice-president for product at Reddit, who witnessed “…a complete breakdown in the kind of thought process behind how your technology is going to affect the users that use it and the world at large.”

VMs and tech giants cite many attractive benefits in shifting to self-driving: increased mobility, improved road safety and reduced congestion.

However, the excellent 2017 House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The Future?, pointed out: “While we cannot say with any certainty what the impact on congestion will be, it is possible to imagine a situation of total gridlock… while some of our evidence has suggested that CAV could have huge economic benefits, we are not convinced that the statistics provided have been properly substantiated.”

That’s a lot of uncertainty, but the committee also heard compelling evidence in support of CAVs, not least the Association of British Insurers submitting that human error is a causal factor in 90-95% of road traffic accidents.

That stat originates from the US and some claim the UK figure is lower. Here, there were 27 road deaths per million inhabitants in 2017, a 5% year-on-year improvement. Within the EU, only Sweden had a better record. The point stands: humans are fallible.

The BBC’s Tomorrow’s World boldly stated: “Over a million people are killed worldwide each year by cars, with 90% of accidents caused by human error. Several million miles of test drives have shown driverless cars to be safer.”

One firm advocate is Antonio Avenoso, executive director of The European Transport Safety Council. “We are calling for safer vehicle standards such as mandatory fitment of automated emergency braking and intelligent speed assistance; better infrastructure safety rules and a solid framework for the safe rollout of automated driving,” he said.

Bob Lutz, former vice chair of General Motors, is more caustic. “Human drivers are distracted. They drink. They text. They take drugs. Autonomous vehicles do none of that,” he said.

Further to the safety argument, there’s cold hard cash. Morgan Stanley has estimated that autonomous cars could save the US $1.3 trillion annually through lower fuel consumption ($169bn), reduced crash costs ($488bn) and productivity increases ($645bn).

In the UK, a 2015 joint report by KPMG and the SMMT, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles – The UK Economic Opportunity, estimated socio-economic benefits “in the region of £51 billion per year by 2030”, if we consolidate a leadership position. Most of this weighty sum is predicted to come from increased ease of travel, fewer accidents and improved productivity.

Other key findings were that CAVs could create an additional 320,000 jobs in the UK by 2030, 25,000 of which would be in automotive manufacturing, and that CAVs could save over 2,500 lives and prevent more than 25,000 serious accidents in the UK by 2030.

“Already more than half of new cars sold are available with at least one semi-autonomous driving feature,” said SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes.

It should certainly be a good time to be in the sensor business. ABI Research forecasts that as many as 36 million LiDAR units will ship in 2025, with a market value of $7.2bn.

 A recent study by The University of Greenwich found that 43% of 925 respondents “felt positive” towards the concept of CAVs. 46% were undecided, with road safety (51%) and cybersecurity (44%) their primary concerns.

Cyber threats

These concerns are not without foundation. In a series of experiments from 2013 onwards, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek showed that a hacker with wired or over-the-internet access to certain vehicles could disable or apply the brakes, turn the steering wheel and cause acceleration.

“No matter what we did in the past, the human had a chance to control the car,” said Miller. “But if you’re sitting in the back seat, that’s a whole different story. You’re totally at the mercy of the vehicle.”

While a malicious attack could have horrific consequences, Craig Smith, a security researcher who runs Car Hacking Village at Defcon, the world’s largest hacking convention, believes CAVs are generally more secure.

“They have to use lots of different sensors,” he explained. “The interesting thing is that each sensor doesn’t trust the other. It’s closer to the way humans figure out whether something is an illusion or not. And that’s harder for a hacker to deal with.”

What if a CAV owner wanted a trusted third party to gain access, an independent workshop, for example? The aftermarket received a boost from The European Parliament in March, when 633 MEPs requested that the European Commission publish a legislative initiative to guarantee fair, unrestricted and in real-time access to in-vehicle data before the end of the year.

Level 3 tipping point

The halfway stage of automation, dubbed Level 3 or Conditional Assistance, is pivotal. These vehicles can monitor their surroundings, change lanes, and control steering and braking, but the driver must be ready to take back control if required.

To illustrate the current state of play – how these are no longer theoretical conundrums but real world problems – news broke in April of a very modern dangerous driving incident.

A driver who put his Tesla into autopilot and moved into the passenger seat while at 40mph on the M1 was disqualified for 18 months after footage was posted online. Bhavesh Patel admitted that what he had done was “silly”, but insisted his car was “amazing”.

PC Kirk Caldicutt, of Hertfordshire Police, said: “What Patel did was grossly irresponsible and could have easily ended in tragedy. He not only endangered his own life but the lives of other innocent people using the motorway. This case should serve as an example to all drivers who have access to autopilot controls. I want to stress that they are in no way a substitute for a competent motorist in the driving seat who can react appropriately to the road ahead.”

Professor Neville Stanton, of the University of Southampton, has highlighted that, in simulated emergencies, up to a third of drivers of automated vehicles did not recover the situation, whereas almost all drivers of manual vehicles were able to do so.

Further still, CAV drivers took, on average, six times longer than manual drivers to respond to the emergency braking of other vehicles. “This is particularly true if they are engaging in other activities, such as reading, answering emails, watching movies or surfing the internet,” he said.

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, expressed concern that a Level 3 vehicle could hand back control to a driver who “might well be asleep at the time”. He suggested the risk could be managed by skipping this level and requiring CAVs to be capable of coping with any eventuality.

Who to save?

 Unfortunately, in many crash situations, there is no win-win; it’s a case of the least worst option. Which brings us to ethics, and a thought experiment called The Trolley Problem.

The scenario is this: There is a runaway trolley and, ahead, five people are tied to the track. You are standing some distance off, next to a lever. If you pull it, the trolley will switch to a track only one person is tied to. What do you do?

Referring to our definition, CAVs work on rules, which must be coded. In surveys published in the journal, Science, researchers in the US and France set out to canvas opinion on how driverless cars should behave in no-win situations.

76% agreed that a driverless car should sacrifice its passenger rather than kill 10 pedestrians. The pinch came when they were asked if they would rather purchase a car programmed to protect them instead of pedestrians.

The waters get murkier still. If regulations forced manufacturers to install moral algorithms that minimised deaths, the majority of respondents said they’d buy unregulated cars instead, potentially undermining the much-vaunted safety benefits.

One of the report’s authors, Azim Shariff, of the University of Oregon, commented: “Would you really want to be among the minority shouldering the duties of safety, when everyone else is free-riding, so to speak, on your equitability?”

Alan Winfield, of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, added: “Without transparency you cannot regulate, and without regulation, driverless cars are unlikely to be trusted. There’s a strong case for a driverless car equivalent to the Civil Aviation Authority.”

Public perceptions

What’s needed, of course, is more testing, but a fatal crash involving an Uber test vehicle in March did little to advance that cause.

In a recent survey of consumer attitudes, the American Automobile Association found that 73% would be too afraid to ride in a self-driving car, up from 63% in the previous survey. The biggest slip in confidence was among millennials.

In Arizona, where the crash happened, the previously supportive Governor, Doug Ducey, suspended Uber’s testing. In Minnesota, Senator Jim Abeler set about drafting legislation to ban automated driving systems until the companies behind them can prove they’re safe.

Harald Proff, of Deloitte, commented: “The US is in no way reckless when it comes to autonomous driving tests, but in Europe, and especially in Germany, rules are a notch stricter when it comes to putting cars on public streets.”

Indeed. A flagship project in Berlin involves four autonomous buses ferrying doctors and staff across the private grounds of the city’s Charite hospital, along pre-defined routes, away from public streets, at a maximum 12mph.

Here, roads minister Jesse Norman announced a three-year review of driving laws – an “extensive regulatory reform programme” intended to ensure “the right laws are in place before the widespread use of these vehicles on UK roads”. In the meantime, public tests continue.

 On UK roads

 Early UK road trials include: The GATEway Project in London; Venturer in Bristol; and UK Autodrive in Milton Keynes and Coventry.

GATEway is entering its final phase, which will see a fleet of driverless pods providing a shuttle service around a 3.4km route on the Greenwich Peninsula. In a world first, members of the public are invited to take part in the research, by riding in or engaging with the pods and sharing their opinions.

Developed by British companies Westfield Sportscars and Heathrow Enterprises, and powered by Fusion Processing technology, the pods have no steering wheels or typical driver controls.

Venturer has so far published the results of two trials involving a Wildcat road vehicle. The first – to understand handover of control between vehicle and driver – concluded that the functionality should “proceed with caution”.

The second – to consider how CAVs interact with other road users and junctions – suggested that making them drive more cautiously than the average human driver could create a traffic calming effect, resulting in safety and congestion benefits.

UK Autodrive, with partner Jaguar Land Rover, has sought to address the fact that, in times of heavy congestion, up to 30% of traffic consists of vehicles looking for parking spaces.

“In the future, connected features will alert drivers to empty spaces and autonomous vehicles will be able to drive straight to them,” said Tim Armitage, Arup’s UK Autodrive project director.

“Valet parking systems will enable autonomous vehicles to drop passengers at convenient points, after which the vehicle will leave by itself to undertake a further journey, or park out-of-town. As well as making parking less of a hassle, these new ways of parking and drop-off will allow cities to radically redefine their use of space, with far less land potentially needed for parking spaces.”

In February, Highways England announced the HumanDrive Project to undertake “the most complex journey across the UK, without driver input”, taking in country roads, high speed roundabouts, A-roads and motorways.

Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, commented: “Low carbon and self-driving vehicles are the future and they are going to drive forward a global revolution in mobility. This revolution has the potential to be worth £52bn to our economy by 2035, and the opportunity to be at the forefront of this change is one we cannot afford to miss.”

In April, the Driven consortium, which is in receipt of an £8.6m government grant, unveiled its plan to run a fleet of Level 4 vehicles in urban areas and on motorways.

Level 4 CAVs might occasionally ask for a manual input, but will continue self-driving if they don’t get one. The project will culminate in journeys between London and Oxford in 2019.

Give us a date

 So, if Level 4 testing goes to plan next year, when can we expect Level 5, full automation? Bloomberg New Energy Finance asked 300 automotive, energy and technology executives to name the year when US consumers will be able to buy a Level 5. Nearly 75% predicted the milestone won’t be reached before 2030. Suddenly, that sounds quite conservative.

Carrie Morton, deputy director of Mcity, the University of Michigan’s purpose-built test facility for CAVs, was more precise. “You’re going to see in the next couple of years isolated pilots of shared, automated Level 4 vehicles,” she said.

“And the distinction between Level 4 and Level 5 is that Level 4 have to operate in a very specific operating domain – it can only go certain places. You’re going to see that really soon. All the while the personally-owned vehicles you and I drive are going to have increasing levels of automation.”

As IMI CEO, Steve Nash, noted in the April issue of this magazine: “It requires around 2.5 terabytes of data to enable an A380 Airbus to fly autonomously across the Atlantic, whereas 45 terabytes of data are required to equip a Level 4 autonomous car to handle routine driving tasks.”

Is this an achievement comparable with putting a man on the moon? No. Is it as ground-breaking as the invention of the motor car itself? Probably not. It is simply progress. In the next decade, humans could set foot on Mars. Here on earth, cars will no longer need drivers.