Autonomous Vehicle Technology from a Forensic Perspective

Ross Clarke, a chartered engineer and road traffic collision investigator from Hawkins’ London Office, recently gave a webinar to the Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL) on one of the most thought-provoking emerging technologies in the automotive field: autonomous driving.

Ross notes that it is important to distinguish that automated driving and autonomous driving are very different. Currently there is no autonomous vehicle readily available to the general market, and development of this technology is still ongoing. An autonomous vehicle, by definition, would not require any level of human interaction, while a partially, or conditionally, automated vehicle would still require some human input in order to operate.

The Scale of Vehicle Automation

 The scale of automation based on a driver’s control of a vehicle. (Source: The United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Though there is currently no defined universal procedure for how forensic investigators will extract data from autonomous vehicles, Ross speculates that the use of current technology like Event Data Recorders (EDRs) could continue. EDRs on some vehicles already log information around the time of an incident, such as the vehicle’s speed, the application of controls, and the vehicle’s occupancy. Most modern vehicles in Europe include some form of EDR, although an EDR’s main purpose is to supply the vehicle’s manufacturer with critical information relating to the car’s safety systems. Access to EDR data is usually restricted, and is currently only provided to forensic investigators voluntarily, and only by a limited number of manufacturers in the UK. Ross believes that for autonomous vehicles, EDRs will probably perform the same functions, but he expects that the amount of information stored in relation to each crash event will greatly increase.

Benefits of autonomous driving would be safety, productivity, mobility, cost, and reductions in both traffic and emissions. The ability to remove a human driver would not only afford increased independence for those who are unable to drive, but will also benefit other drivers on the road by removing human error associated with them. Ross notes that in 2016, 94% of all serious collisions in the United States were linked to human choices.

Risks involved in autonomous driving, however, would centre primarily around privacy and cyber security, due to the vehicle’s controls and the stored personal information. For example, autonomous vehicles need to map their surroundings in order to understand their environment, but mapping of private property could be considered an intrusion. There have, unfortunately, already been incidents involving vehicles using some form of autonomous driving feature, which can often happen during the testing and introductory phases of new technology. One such incident occurred when a vehicle collided with a pedestrian walking her bicycle across the road; the vehicle was unable to recognise the pedestrian from its database of distinguished objects, and therefore did not determine the need to brake. It is clear to developers of this technology that simply identifying the location of objects is not enough: the vehicle must also distinguish what each object is, as well as its likely trajectory.

Current autonomous vehicles are nearest to Level 3: Conditional Automation. This is a huge step for vehicle technology, as the driver would essentially be a backup rather than the primary control system in this scenario. A number of pieces of emerging technology and software would now come between the driver and the vehicle, which will lead to discussion surrounding who, or what, is potentially liable in the event of a collision. 

Latest News

Escapes, Ingress and Flooding: Water the Causes?

12th Aug 2019

Chartered engineers Andrew Reeves and Nicola Fallowfield-Smith, both of Hawkins’ Reigate Office, recently gave a presentation to Oak Underwriting on the various types of investigation tactics Hawkins uses after a claim involving water damage. Nicola, ...

Read More

Hawkins Wins ROSPA Gold Award for Second Year!

30th Jul 2019

Hawkins & Associates has been handed a prestigious award in recognition of its practices and achievements in helping its engineers and investigators get home safely at the end of the working day.Hawkins & Associates Limited has achieved a Gold ...

Read More

Hawkins Attends FOIL Launch Event

29th Jul 2019

Last week, the Forum of Insurance Lawyers held a launch event in London for a new division of their organisation, which was created in 2018 to support the insurance and reinsurance industry in London. Sarah Hooton, Ben Adams, Adrian Ratte, Bernard Travers, ...

Read More

Hawkins Attends ICIC 2019

16th Jul 2019

Dr Nick Carey, of the Reigate Office, and Nico Zurcher, of the London Office, recently attended The International Cargo Insurance Conference (ICIC) 2019 in June at the Devere Latimer Estate Hotel in Buckinghamshire. Hawkins was one of the event sponsors ...

Read More

Celebrating Hydrometry

10th Jul 2019

On 24 June, Richard Keightley of Hawkins’ London Office attended a joint national meeting between the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and the British Hydrological Society (BHS). The programme, “Celebrating ...

Read More

Contact Us

Submitting this contact form will enter your details into our contacts database and we will reply to your request as soon as possible. We will also retain your details so we may contact you from time to time. You can ask us to remove your details at any time. For details, see our Privacy Notice.