Navigating the future of automated vehicles

Having just returned from the very thought-provoking Motor and Mobility Conference 2022, I’m not sure whether I am left feeling more or less positive about the prospect of ‘fully autonomous’ vehicles.

Vehicle automation seems to have been a talking point at such events for almost as long as I can remember. As far back as 2016, I recall studying the slide outlining the 5 stages of automation and the expected timelines and feeling a little sceptical at the prospect of level 5, fully automated cars hitting the road by 2022.

For those not familiar with the levels of automation, they can be broadly summarised as:

As I said, it wasn’t long ago that it was predicted that we would be seeing level 5 vehicles on the road about now. However, for me, I’m not sure it feels any closer than it did in 2016 and, if anything, it now feels further away!

The general opinion right now seems to have moved firmly away from the question of when we will get to level 5 towards if we will ever get to level 5.

Yes, there have been developments such as Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) but even getting those authorised for use on UK roads has been a huge task.

You could be forgiven for thinking that we already have fully autonomous vehicles on the roads when you hear manufacturers using terms such as Auto Pilot, Pro Pilot or Pilot Assist. However, it is important to note that these are all ‘assistance’ systems and all require a driver to be there to take control and sit at level 2.

The government has proposed changes to the Highway Code to make level 3 vehicles legal on UK roads and this is expected to be here by the end of the year. Some manufacturers feel that their cars are already at this level but

require the change in legislation to enable them to be used (the new Audi A8 for example).

But even at level 3, a driver will still need to be there and ready to take back full control.

If we are then going to move towards level 4, there are even more aspects to consider. If we have a situation where the car is in ‘full control’ of itself and has an accident, who is to blame? Does the driver become a passenger and therefore able to claim for injuries? Will the manufacturer release the data to the insurer which may implicate them?

As an insurer, I suspect that we might be expected to deal with the claim and look to subrogate against the manufacturer later. There will clearly be cost implications here.

Perhaps we will see closer links between insurers and manufacturers or vehicles being sold with imbedded insurance cover provided by the manufacturer.

I think before we get anywhere close to level 4, we will require huge investment in infrastructure including significant road improvements.

And level 5? Do we even want or need this?

Whilst we might see a limited use and need of these vehicles in some very specific places (I’m thinking airports or warehouses), I really can’t see us being at level 5 any time soon and probably not even in my life time.

Barry Knight This article was written by our HNW Executive Motor Manager, Barry Knight.