Partially-automated driving systems make driving less safe, report claims

Posted: 24 May 2018 | | No comments yet

A new report, ‘Safer Roads with Autonomous Vehicles?’, examines the impact of automated vehicles on road safety and disputes the idea that autonomy surpasses human instinct…


Manufacturers, and supporters, of automated vehicles claim the technology will eliminate 90 per cent of road deaths that are caused through human error, however, these statements are untested, claims a new report by the International Transport Forum.

Shared responsibility between robot and human drivers can in fact lead to more complex driving decisions. The unintended consequences could make driving less safe, not more. In situations where humans take over control from robots, more crashes might occur among ‘average’ drivers who normally do not take risks.

Full automation may reduce the number of severe crashes significantly. However, with partially-automated systems, humans retain many advantages. Overcoming this requires multiple sensors and connectivity with infrastructure.

Fully-automated and connected cars are vulnerable to cyber-security risks, however, “the avoidance of crashes should never depend on access to shared external communication channels alone”, warns the report. Instead, it is recommended vehicles are designed so that safety-critical systems are functionally independent and cannot fail due to connectivity issues.

Automation makes it more urgent to adopt a Safe System approach to road transport. A Safe System organises all elements of road traffic so that when one safety mechanism fails, another is activated; preventing a crash or serious injury. Applying this approach to automated driving would mean the traffic system could account for machine errors.

The report cautions against using safety performance to market competing vehicles: “The relative safety level of vehicles, should not be a competition issue. The regulatory framework should ensure maximum achievable road safety, guaranteed by industry, as a precondition of allowing these vehicles … to operate.”

Other recommendations include ensuring the automated vehicles report safety-relevant data, developing a staged testing regime for automated vehicles, establishing comprehensive cyber-security principles for automated driving and providing clear and targeted messaging of vehicle capabilities.