Makers warned about risk of giving wrong impression with 'autonomous' car claims
Drivers are being put at risk by car-makers who claim their vehicles are autonomous, a new report warns.
It says they need to be careful they are not "lulling" drivers into a false sense of security by suggesting their cars can do a lot more than they really can.
The report, by Thatcham Research, is accompanied by an undertaking that the prestigious organisation will test cars to see just what they can achieve.
They will examine the functionality of driver assistance systems, and watch for misleading names.
They insist that current assisted driving technologies are "not autonomous systems" and are "still in their infancy and not as robust or as capable as they are declared to be".
All of which has led Thatcham and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) calling, not just on carmakers but legislators, for "greater clarity" on the capability of vehicles sold with technology that claims to do so much for the driver.
Significantly, they claim there are growing reports of people crashing because they are over-relying on technology.
The risks to drivers are detailed in the Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment report, which identifies "dangerous grey areas" on some driver support technologies.
These include use of names such as 'autopilot' and 'propilot', which can lead to drivers assuming the car can drive itself.
They will also look at how and when drivers should take back control of their vehicles.
Thatcham's research chief, Matthew Avery, says: "We are starting to see real-life examples of the hazardous situations that occur when motorists expect the car to drive and function on its own."
He says these situations seem to arise where drivers are not sufficiently aware they are required to take back control in problematic circumstances.
He insists that fully automated vehicles with no need for any driver involvement will not be available for "years and years".
"Until then, drivers remain criminally liable for the safe use of their cars and as such, the capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold," he adds.
His organisation has drawn up a list of 10 key criteria that every assisted vehicle must have.
These are in addition to 10 outlined in 2017 before a car can be called 'automated'. They include the name clearly describing capability, the system being limited to specific roads or areas, a clear handover of control in a variety of situations and the ability of a car to safely stop if the driver does not re-assume control.
Mr Avery says: "Absolute clarity is needed to help drivers understand when and how these technologies are designed to work and that they should always remain engaged in the driving task."
James Dalton, ABI director of general insurance, says: "We are a long way from fully autonomous cars which will be able to look after all parts of a journey and, in the meantime, it remains crucial that all drivers are alert and ready to take back full control at a moment's notice.
"Manufacturers must be responsible in how they describe and name what their vehicles can do, and the insurance industry is ready to hold them to account on this."
This summer Thatcham is starting a new consumer testing programme to assess assisted driving systems against the 10 criteria. Six cars - not yet named - will be scrutinised.
They say their concern is that many systems are still in their infancy and are not as robust or as capable as they are declared to be. "We'll be testing and evaluating these systems, to give consumers guidance on the limits of their performance," they add.