Insurance research organisation says names such as Autopilot are 'deeply unhelpful'.

Insurers have urged car manufacturers to be ‘more responsible’ when naming driver assistance systems fitted to their vehicles.

According to the insurance industry’s research lab, Thatcham, the word “autonomous” is being used in manufacturers’ marketing, causing drivers to be lulled into a ‘false sense of security’. The organisation described names such as Tesla’s Autopilot and Nissan’s ProPilot as ‘deeply unhelpful’.

Thatcham has expressed concerns that such technology is in its infancy and, in some cases, motorists may believe it is more capable than it truly is.

Matthew Avery, head of research at Thatcham, said: ‘We are starting to see real-life examples of the hazardous situations that occur when motorists expect the car to drive and function on its own. Specifically, where the technology is taking ownership of more and more of the driving task, but the motorist may not be sufficiently aware that they are still required to take back control in problematic circumstances.

‘Fully automated vehicles that can own the driving task from A to B, with no need for driver involvement whatsoever, won’t be available for many years to come. Until then, drivers remain criminally liable for the safe use of their cars and as such, the capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold.’

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The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says there should be ‘greater clarity’ surrounding the capability of vehicles’ on-board technology.

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

Tesla refutes Thatcham's opinion, saying its customers are generally aware of Autopilot's limitations and how to use it.

Tesla Model S autonomous collision

A Tesla spokesperson said: '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. When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times. This is designed to prevent driver misuse, and is among the strongest driver-misuse safeguards of any kind on the road today. 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 also says its drivers are made aware of the ProPilot technology's capabilities during the sales process.

'ProPilot Assist is a hands-on, eyes-on, driver-assist system that can be used for motorway and dual-carriageway driving,' said a spokesperson for the Japanese brand. 'This is clearly communicated to customers at all stages of the purchase process. The system requires the driver to be in control at all times, and with their hands on the steering wheel – the system deactivates if this is not the case.'