The U.K. insurance industry settles a question that continues to challenge the automotive industry: Exactly what should a vehicle be capable of doing to rate being called automated?

Releasing its minimum criteria for the definition, it says systems that require the driver to control or monitor the vehicle cannot be classified as automated.

The government’s Automated and Electric Vehicle Bill defines an automated vehicle as one that is “designed or adapted to be capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving itself, i.e. that it is operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, by an individual.”

Thatcham Research, the U.K. auto insurers’ research center, is to assess any car marketed as automated or driverless against 10 key features and performance criteria required of a truly automated vehicle. They are:

  • Naming: clearly describes automated capability.
  • Law-abiding: complies with U.K. traffic laws and the Highway Code.
  • Location-specific: functionality is limited to specific types of roads or areas via geo-fencing.
  • Clear handover: transfer of driving control follows a clear offer-and-confirm process.
  • Safe driving: vehicle can manage all reasonably expected situations by itself.
  • Unanticipated handover: adequate and appropriate notice must be given if the vehicle needs to unexpectedly hand back driving control.
  • Safe stop: vehicle executes an appropriate safe stop if unable to continue or the driver does not take back control.
  • Emergency intervention: vehicles can avoid or prevent an accident by responding to an emergency.
  • Backup systems: safeguards step in if any systems fail.
  • Accident data: record and report what systems were in use at the time of an accident.

“We recommend that this is also criteria that government and vehicle manufacturers could use to define what is and isn’t safe use of an automated car,” Ben Howarth, senior policy adviser- motor and liability at the Association of British Insurers, says in a statement.

Thatcham director of research Matthew Avery says it’s crucial to have a clear definition of what constitutes an automated vehicle.

“Regulators and insurers require this to classify and insure vehicles appropriately, while consumers need to understand the functionality and capability of the vehicle and their own responsibilities,” Avery says.

“Consequently, a system that needs the driver to control or monitor the vehicle in any way cannot be classified as automated.”