Safety concerns over crash responsibility take centre stage at autonomous vehicle summit

WWho is responsible in the event of an accident involving an autonomous car – the driver or the vehicle itself – took the front line at a leading industry event in Melbourne this week.

A panel of experts at the Autonomous Vehicle Technology Conference (APAC21) discussed the major safety issue facing industry and legislators alike, and attendees were eager to hear the answer.

James Hurnall, director of policy at crash testing agency ANCAP, said during the event’s Trials, Policy and Regulation Panel that the issue is being closely examined by industry and others.

“I know this is an important question that has addressed what we call ‘highly automated vehicles’ – vehicles that operate at level three or higher,” he said.

Volvo XC90 autonomous car


“What is important is whether the vehicle is in control at this point [in a crash]. There is a concept called automated ADC, an entity that is responsible for the vehicle when operating in an automated mode. That’s my understanding.

“I understand that the car companies are looking into how this can be done [how to differentiate between car and driver] and uh, then it also becomes very important whether it’s an OEM product or an aftermarket product because then it becomes really difficult to deal with.”

Samantha Cockfield, director of road safety at TAC, added that the problem is less consequential for her organization because TAC is already securing the vehicle and not the individual.

“We actually secure a vehicle for the TAC, not an individual. So the question of who’s in charge doesn’t really matter that much. But I think at any point where the driver is still in control, you really have to say that the driver still has to be the end point of it,” she said.

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“But I mean we really look at the timing and especially as an insurance system to work with manufacturers and not individual drivers on errors.”

Autonomous car technology from Mercedes-Benz


At the conference, representatives from Ford Australia’s ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) division asked what to do in scenarios where people overestimated the capabilities of lower-level AV systems and whether this would lead to an increase in road accidents , referring to recent examples in the US where drivers were found trying to trick the car into believing a human was still in control when they weren’t.

In response to the concerns, Cockfield said, “I think, you know, since I’ve been in human safety, that’s like 30 years, that I’ve been talking about the adoption of vehicle technologies, people are just going to assume that’s that Car can do more than it can. That also happened with ABS when it was introduced.”

“We’re certainly going to need some intelligence enforcement,” Harnall said. “As we do with the introduction of any technology. Let’s not let this blind us to all the benefits we can potentially get from some bad cases. In our rating system, we look at what information is provided to the driver and how they continue to engage with the vehicle.

Autonomous technology from Mercedes-Benz


“So it’s about how the vehicle, how the manufacturer advertises and names the system, how the information is provided to the driver or vehicle owner, and how the vehicle owner continues to be involved in the system. Right now we’re evaluating driving monitoring systems, which essentially evaluate how well the vehicle ensures the driver is still engaged.

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“I picked up a new car three weeks ago and when I was driving home I was playing with the touchscreen and the next thing I know he’s saying to me, ‘You’re not paying attention, do you want to stop when you’re tired? ‘ So that the technology is there and to help the people who are making a real mistake. There are people who will do anything to defeat the system just as we are doing now, with people doing everything they can to speed or drive with alcohol in their system.

In recent years, the National Transport Commission (NTC), tasked with leading a range of transport reforms on behalf of jurisdictions across Australia, has been working on a complete end-to-end overhaul of regulations on the subject – resulting in the following includes more than 700 untangling existing laws.

Tesla Autopilot


While there is no specific end date in sight for the completion of this work, the NTC says it is on track and published a discussion paper on the subtopic of law enforcement interaction and response powers on the road safety risks of automated vehicles in July this year. Earlier this year, transport ministers across the country agreed to start drafting new legislation by the end of this year, with a goal of having a national law in place by 2026.

It is worth noting that other countries are at different stages of developing regulations for automated vehicles, but no jurisdiction has a complete regulatory system yet.

Based on research the NTC has conducted over the past few years, it’s expected that the new national law will state that the Automated Driving System Entity (ADSE) has legal control of a vehicle when automated features are operational – but that the fallback- A willing user should remain vigilant enough to respond to requests and errors, and regain control when necessary.

There are currently five levels of autonomous driving. Below level one, the car only accelerates or brakes for you, but you retain full control, e.g. B. with cruise control. Level two is similar but a bit more advanced, like automatic reverse parking, and again you’re in charge and need to react to the environment.

It is at level three that things get interesting, and this is where much of this debate begins to become relevant. The vehicle does everything for you, but only under certain conditions such as a certain speed, weather or time of day and a driver must be able to take over immediately if desired. Level four is similar, but the human does nothing while the car is driving and only has to take responsibility at other times.

Full automation is at level five, meaning the car zeroes out everything the human does.

Other issues raised at the conference included the ongoing security of ADSs throughout the life of a vehicle and who is responsible for them and how this affects motor insurance claims.



Again, the NTC is developing reform to allow people injured or killed in an accident involving an automated vehicle to access an equivalent level of care, treatment, benefits and compensation as those experiencing one from a human driver controlled vehicle accident.

Transport ministers agreed in August 2019 on a national approach to automated vehicle insurance, requiring existing accident insurance schemes to provide coverage for accidents involving automated vehicles. Ministers have been asked to join a working group looking at policy issues and will report on progress.