With automated driving features set to be unleashed on motorways next year, car manufacturers and industry have created a new set of guidelines to ensure the technology is marketed ‘accurately and responsibly’ to drivers.
From spring 2022, it is expected motorists driving on motorways will be legally be allowed to use Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) that are fitted to the latest models.
ALKS can take full control of the car’s steering and changing of lanes to allow users to take their hands off the wheel completely.
Concerns around the safety implications and mis-selling of varying technologies and their capabilities has resulted in the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders publishing guiding principles to ensure motorists know if and when they can use hands-free driving features.
These new guidelines have been co-developed and agreed by experts within the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and backed by road safety groups.
The industry-led principles will ensure consumers receive ‘consistent and clear information’ regarding the difference between ‘automated’ and ‘assisted’ driving features, with the latter requiring drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times.
The guidelines come after Tesla has been repeatedly criticised for irresponsibility naming some of the features available with its electric cars, including its ‘Autopilot’ system and more recently its ‘Full Self-Driving’ assistance technology.
US road safety bosses slammed the brand earlier this year, saying the technology does not deliver a fully self-driving experience because it requires driver monitoring 100 per cent of the time to ensure its safe use.
Head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jennifer Homendy, told The Wall Street Journal in September that the use of the Full Self-Driving name is ‘misleading and irresponsible’, especially because consumers pay more attention to marketing than warnings in an owner’s manual or on a manufacturer’s website.
She said Tesla’s marketing ‘has clearly misled numerous people to misuse and abuse technology’ and warned Tesla against rolling out a ‘city-driving’ function – recently announced by boss Elon Musk – before the company addresses ‘basic safety issues’.
To avoid such confusion and mixed messaging in Britain ahead of new laws allowing the use of some hands-free driving features on roads from next year, the SMMT on Monday announced five new rules to be agreed with manufacturers who sell vehicles in this country.
It says all automated driving features must be described sufficiently clearly so as not to mislead, including setting out the circumstances in which that feature can function.
Any automated driving feature must also be described ‘sufficiently clearly’ so that it is distinguished from an assisted driving feature, and vice-versa.
Where both automated driving and assisted driving features are described, they must be clearly distinguished from each other, the guidelines state.
And learning from Tesla’s examples, the principles state that the name of an automated or assisted driving feature must not mislead by conveying that it is the other – ancillary words may be necessary to avoid confusion – for example for an assisted driving feature, by making it clear that the driver must be in control at all times.
The legalisation of the use of ALKS on British motorways has been discussed by MPs since August last year and is due to be given the green light in 2022.
ALKS are categorised as ‘Level 3’ autonomy and can take over control of a vehicle, keeping it in lane so the driver doesn’t need to have any input.
Current UK laws mean drivers can use technology such as lane assist systems, but must remain engaged in the task of driving and aware of their environment – in line with Level 2.
Level 3 signifies that the person at the wheel is not driving when the automated systems are engaged, but can step in at any time and must take over at the system’s request.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, says the technology has ‘tremendous potential to save lives’ but says rules need to be put in place to ensure consumers aren’t mis-sold about the self-driving capabilities of cars.
‘It is essential that this revolutionary technology is marketed accurately and responsibly, and we are delighted to have brought together industry, government and other key stakeholders to develop a series of guiding principles that will ensure consumers will have clarity and confidence over their capabilities from when these advanced vehicles first make their way into showrooms,’ Hawes said.
Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said the introduction of such self-driving systems offer the potential for ‘safer, greener and more accessible for all’ journeys.
‘It is essential that industry and stakeholders are clear on their responsibilities and developed in partnership with Government, motoring and road safety groups, the SMMT’s Guiding Principles are an important step to promote the safe use of automated technologies in the UK,’ she said.
British-based vehicle safety experts Thatcham Research have for months been calling on guidelines to be introduced ahead of the roll-out of ALKS on our roads, previously stating that the Government’s plans were ‘undercooked’ and the capabilities of the technology is misleading for drivers.
What is ALKS and how does it work?
Automated Lane Keeping System technology would be the most advanced car automation so far seen on UK roads.
When activated, the ALKS keeps the vehicle within its lane, controlling its movements for extended periods of time without the driver needing to do anything.
However, the driver must be ready and able to resume driving control within seconds if prompted by the vehicle.
Different manufacturers all have their own systems, but generally it involves a forward-looking camera, usually behind the windshield, laser sensors, infrared sensors and radar sensors to detect if you’re unintentionally drifting out of lane.
When the sensors detect the car is moving out of lane, it can automatically apply braking to one side of the vehicle to correct the vehicles position in the road.
Rather than subtle braking, some systems can use discreet steering interventions.
ALKS is designated a Level 3 system by the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe.
This signifies that the person at the wheel is not driving when the automated systems are engaged, but can step in at any time and must take over at the system’s request.
With a Level 3 system activated, the user is allowed to do other things, such as watch a movie or even send a text message, but must retain some level of alertness to what is happening around them.
There are five stages of autonomy for self-driving cars, with Level 5 being full autonomy.
While it is similar to the technology already being used by Tesla, which it calls Autopilot, the US firm’s system is only deemed Level 2 – where drivers are expected to keep their full attention on traffic.
Lane Keeping Assist – a function that’s been available in new cars for over a decade – is also deemed to fall into Level 1 and 2 because it only alerts the driver that they are veering out of their lane and it is up to the user to steer the vehicle.
Matthew Avery, research director, said last year: ‘The Government’s proposed timeline for the introduction of automated technology must be revised. It simply isn’t safe enough and its introduction will put UK motorists’ lives at risk.’
Commenting on the principles published this week, he said they mark a ‘key milestone’ in ensuring there is no confusion around the capabilities of assisted driving systems and future automated systems, as well as the responsibilities of the drivers using them.
‘We have long advocated consistency of terminology,’ Avery said.
‘There are two clear states – a vehicle is either assisted with a driver being supported by technology or automated where the technology is effectively and safely replacing the driver.
‘We urge manufacturers now to use simple marketing that does not over promise functionality and the key is for them to be delivered consistently across all marketing material, as well as through effective dealership education and their subsequent conversations and engagement with consumers.’
Jim Holder, editorial director, What Car?, says the wording used to describe automated driving technologies has for a long time been a source of contention, with some buyers ‘led to believe the technology is more capable than its intended use’.
Such is the scale of the issue that courts in some countries, including Germany, have since banned the marketing of words like ‘Autopilot’ to ensure customers are not misled or do not misunderstand the limitations of the technology.
He said: ‘Having a set of guiding principles to protect UK customers is a welcome move and will help ensure manufacturers are consistent with their language and the boundaries of the technology in their vehicle.
‘The difference between automated driver features and driver assist features are big, and many buyers remain unclear about the limitations of the technologies.
‘With developments in autonomous driving taking place at an increasingly rapid pace, it’s important manufacturers remain honest with buyers.
‘Autonomous cars will help reduce road accidents, but only when the technology is fully developed, and this has to be accurately communicated to buyers.’