Smart Transport

Investigation needed into autonomous vehicle tech

Researchers are calling for an 'urgent investigation' into the technology that allows self-driving cars to communicate with operators.

The University of Leeds’ School of Law has warned that digital interfaces may be unable to ‘adequately communicate’ safety and legal information, which could result in accidents.

A team of academics from the school has produced a study stating that the terms and conditions presented to drivers via an interface will be subject to intense scrutiny, and are calling for an urgent review of the technology before automated cars are introduced onto UK roads.

The research, 'Legal issues in automated vehicles: critically considering the potential role of consent and interactive digital interface', supervised by Dr Jo-Ann Pattinson and Dr Subhajit Basu, considers issues relating to partially automated vehicles - a vehicle which is able to operate without driver input for part of a journey, but not capable of self-driving in all conditions (AV).

The paper states this type of automated vehicle must share operational responsibility with a driver and a legal framework is required to support the handover of driving responsibility between vehicle and driver, and provide a predictable delineation of liability following an accident.

Dr Basu said: “The main safety messages surround the extreme difficulty most drivers will encounter when an autonomous vehicle (AV) suddenly transfers the driving back to them. Even if a driver responds quickly, they may not regain enough situational awareness to avoid an accident.  

“The public is not aware of their vulnerability, and it is doubted that an interface in an automated vehicle will communicate this point with sufficient clarity.”

A report published by Oxbotica, Imperial College London and Transport for London (TfL) has identified the potential impact of autonomous vehicle (AV) services' deployment on major UK cities.

The UK autonomous vehicle accelerator, Zenzic has also put together safety guidance to create a framework for testing driverless vehicles on public roads.

Legal issues in automated vehicles: critically considering the potential role of consent and interactive digital interfaces has been published on the Nature journal website.

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