ALKS Automated Lane Keeping System - a litmus test for Autonomous Vehicles
We’ve long been preparing for the introduction of autonomous vehicles to our streets. However, while vehicle manufacturers may claim they’re close to ready, a recent call out for commentary by the UK about Level 3 automation suggests a legal, insurance, and registration minefield.
In June this year, the United Nations Economic Committee for Europe (UNECE) World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP29) announced the development of an international standard for Level 3 autonomation. This enables a driver – for the first time – to delegate driving tasks to the vehicle. The driver does not have to be in charge of the vehicle but must be ready to take charge in response to an alert. They can also override the autonomous capability manually.
An example of Level 3 automation is Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS). Current Lane Keeping Assist functions have been available in new cars for over a decade at Level 1 and 2 automation, meaning they only alert the driver that they are veering out of their lane and require the driver to steer the vehicle.
The standard also specifies that the operational speed of ALKS systems is limited to a maximum of 60 km/h. Further, on-board displays such as entertainment systems used by the driver for activities other than driving will be automatically suspended as soon as the system issues a transition demand, for instance in advance of the end of an authorized road section.
The Regulation also specifies how the driving task shall be safely handed back from the ALKS to the driver, including the capability for the vehicle to come to a stop in case the driver does not reply appropriately. Car manufacturers are obliged to introduce Driver Availability Recognition Systems. These systems control both the driver’s presence (on the driver’s seats with the seat belt fastened) and the driver’s availability to take back control. Vehicles also must be equipped with a Data Storage System for Automated Driving (DSSAD), which will record when ALKS is activated
Last month the UK put out a call for views on the safe use of ALKS on Great Britain's motorways. They detail the mammoth challenges ahead from a regulatory perspective to get such a function on the road:
- Existing laws and regulatory framework will need to be changed. (Current UK laws mean the highest level of automation allowed under a classification system by the UN's Economic Commission for Europe is Level 2 - which drivers must be paying attention to driving at all times.)
- OEMs need to develop the technology safely, and in a way that meets the varying requirements of domestic road traffic rules in addition to international technical requirements.
- Government and manufacturers must ensure a driver’s responsibilities are set out and communicated clearly.
- The insurance sector must develop new ways of assessing risk and build new business models.
Even the legalities of ALKS are a minefield
The enquiry seeks answers to a mighty plethora of questions and potential scenarios. For example, the UK government asserts:
- The driver must clearly understand what their responsibilities are when the automated driving system (ADS) is engaged (and when it isn’t);
- The driver must not be unfairly held responsible for the ADS not behaving appropriately (e.g. stopping unjustifiably without warning) when it is engaged;
- The driver must take back control of the vehicle when requested thereby minimising occasions and duration when the vehicle stops in their lane;
- The legal responsibilities and expected behaviours of a driver and others in relation to ADS and ALKS must be clear.
More questions than answers and who is responsible for an accident?
The Government notes that the use of ALKS in practice may not allow a vehicle to avoid being the cause of a collision. For example, as a result of the driver failing to resume control on request by the vehicle, the vehicle comes to a stop in a live lane. This is unexpected behaviour for other drivers), and the car is rear-ended by another vehicle. They suggest the driver should be incentivised to resume control in response to a transition demand. Should the driver fail to respond to the transition demand – and is not incapacitated – the Motorway Traffic Regulations would still apply, with the driver being potentially guilty of this offence.
Thus, the Government proposes that the Motorway Traffic Regulations to cover only unjustified stops while the system is activated, so that the driver is incentivised to resume control in response to a transition demand.
Even tasks as stopping in response to police cannot be assumed. The government enquiry asks:
- How do you think ALKS will detect and respond to police or other enforcement vehicle approaching from behind signalling for the vehicle to pull over?
- Do you think that 10 seconds is fast enough in the foreseeable circumstances to comply with the rules on responding to enforcement vehicles? If not, why?
What about stopping after an incident? The inquiry poses the scenario based on existing law:
"Vehicle B is ALKS-capable. It is proceeding along in its lane in heavy traffic at low speed. Motorcyclist C is filtering between the lanes of traffic. As the traffic flow speeds up, Motorcyclist C is involved in a minor collision with by Vehicle B, which nevertheless causes her to lose balance and be knocked from her bike into the road. 3.30 Rule 286 requires a driver to stop if they involved in an incident. How will ALKS detect a minor or low-energy collision, in order to come to a stop and alert the driver? Do you foresee any risks should ALKS vehicles not stop for low-energy impacts?"
How to register automated vehicles?
People often envision the introduction of autonomous vehicle capabilities in new vehicles. The reality is that OEMs are more likely to extend vehicle capabilities via over the air updates for appropriately prepped vehicles. This creates significant challenges for these retrofitted vehicles. Even the registration of automated vehicles is a potential headache. For example, manufacturers may offer automation as a subscription or as an option for a customer to choose at the point of purchase meaning the registration of a vehicle status on the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database could change over time. This would also have repercussions on the insurance category of the vehicle.
The inquiry even asks the question. "How will manufacturers ensure that ALKS vehicles deployed in Great Britain can recognise signage located above the road that may be unique to Great Britain?" It is expected that many new cars sold in the UK will come equipped with Level 3 ALKS capabilities from Spring 2021. The government asserts that the challenge is significant "but leaving the EU offers opportunities to go further and faster." Whether they succeed, will be something of a litmus test for future rollouts of autonomous vehicle capabilities and the process might be far drawn out and painful than anyone ever suspected.