'Automated' cars put drivers in danger by encouraging them to take their eyes off the road, insurers warn

Helen Chandler-Wilde
A Jaguar Land Rover research vehicle equipped with self-driving technology makes its way through Coventry - PA

"Automated" cars are putting drivers in danger by encouraging them to take their eyes off the road, insurers have warned.

Car makers need to make a clear distinction between “assisted” driving, where the car’s computer helps the driver with select tasks, and “automated” driving, where the driver is not required to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all, according to a report for the Association of British Insurers.

Confusion between the terms can lead to accidents, the study, prepared by Thatcham Research, found. 

Matthew Avery, the Head of Research at the organisation said: “The motorist may not be sufficiently aware that they are still required to take back control in problematic circumstances. 

“The capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold.

A Tata Motors European Technical Centre car with autonomous technology on a street in Coventry Credit: Rui Vieira/PA

The report argues for universal symbols to inform drivers of the level of automation in a car and recommends that drivers should be able to take control at any time, even in fully automated vehicles.

In April a man was banned from driving after moving into the passenger seat of his Tesla car after engaging “Autopilot” mode on the M1.

A spokesman for the Elon Musk-run carmaker said drivers are reminded to keep their hands on the wheel at all times.

“The feedback that we get from our customers shows that they have a very clear understanding of what Autopilot is, how to properly use it, and what features it consists of”, the spokesman said.

“Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents and the issues described by Thatcham won’t be a problem for drivers using Autopilot correctly.”

Nissan offers a similar system called ProPilot Assist. A spokesman said that it will deactivate if the driver’s hands are not on the wheel.