Yesterday I had the opportunity to join Thatcham Research and the ABI to test drive a few cars with Automated Lane Keeping Systems, at Thatcham’s track in Oxfordshire. I do think autonomous vehicles – aka “driverless cars” – have potential, but we absolutely need to make sure they’re safe, and the testing I took part in yesterday showed that ALKS has some way to go.
ALKS means that cars will stay in lane, at a fixed speed, without the need for the driver to steer or put their foot on the accelerator – but as I saw yesterday, the various models react differently to obstacles in their path. Crashing into the dummy vehicle (mostly made of carpet tiles) came as quite a shock! We also did some tests with a dummy on an electric scooter which at the moment would be regarded as an “illogical object” by some cars – they know to brake or swerve for other vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians, but the car I saw being tested couldn’t quite work out what an e-scooter was, so went straight into it.
I’m concerned about the Government’s plans to allow ALKS on our roads without more safety concerns being addressed. ALKS means drivers can allow themselves to be distracted, thinking the car is in control, but there are too many circumstances at the moment where we can’t rely on the technology to keep drivers and other road users safe.