Thatcham and the ABI are working together to ensure drivers don’t become overly reliant on assisted driving technology

Misleading car marketing materials using words like ‘autonomous’ could lead to higher premiums.

Thatcham Research, which gives cars safety ratings then used by insurers to calculate premiums, will start issuing a separate rating to vehicles with an assisted driving system based on a 10-point criteria. 

Ratings on these vehicles are due to be published in the autumn.

As the number of assisted driving vehicles, where the vehicle is able to perform tasks like keep inside a lane and maintain a certain speed and distance behind other vehicles, is currently too low, how the vehicles perform against the criteria will not yet be included in the group rating.

However, as the number increases, Thatcham’s head of research Matthew Avery said he expected it would form part of the group rating by the early 2020s.

He added: “We’ll look at a range of vehicles from Mercedes, Volvo, Tesla, BMW and Nissan to assess how good those assisted driving systems are.

“That rating will then be presented to the insurance group rating panel for it then to be included in the group rating.

“It won’t be included this year, but a formula will be put forward proposed for future group ratings.

“The group rating system already features ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance) systems and AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) systems, and we are looking at expanding those features that actually already give a group rating reduction with systems that are effective.

“It’s likely that any assisted and automated rating will simply build on top of that.”

The particular focus on marketing material was made after Thatcham, together with the ABI, expressed concern that terminology used by car manufacturers could make drivers overly-reliant on the technology to drive the car for them.

Thatcham tests on assisted driving vehicles have been ongoing this summer and shown the dangers over-reliance on the system could pose.

Full autonomy a “long way off”

Under Thatcham’s classification of what makes a vehicle partially-autonomous, where a vehicle could perform only certain tasks such as parking without driver input, there are currently none on UK roads. Avery said it would take at least five years until we see such vehicles.

James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the ABI, added: “Insurers are major supporters of efforts to get assisted and autonomous vehicles onto the UK’s roads.

“Given the part human error plays in the overwhelming majority of accidents, these technologies have the potential to dramatically improve road safety.

“However, we are a long way from fully autonomous cars which will be able to look after all parts of a journey and in the meantime, it remains crucial that all drivers are alert and ready to take back full control at a moment’s notice.

“Manufacturers must be responsible in how they describe and name what their vehicles can do, and the insurance industry is ready to hold them to account on this.”