A parliamentary committee has begun an inquiry into autonomous vehicles, with one industry submission highlighting the ‘real safety hazard’ of inadequate or poorly maintained road markings.
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee held the first evidence session on its inquiry on Tuesday (1 November) and heard evidence from government officials and academic experts.
The Tesla Model S has an autopilot function
The Road Safety Markings Association (RSMA) submitted evidence to the inquiry, emphasising the changes to the physical infrastructure in the UK that will be required for the successful deployment of autonomous vehicles.
It said its main concern is that current standards of road safety markings are not being maintained and that ‘where assistive or autonomous technology relies in part on road markings and signs, any failure of maintenance presents a real safety hazard’.
The RSMA highlighted its most recently-published survey of lines on 7,000km of motorways, dual and single carriageways in England, Scotland and Wales, which showed that, despite a recognised Highways Agency (now Highways England) standard, and contractual obligations on behalf of main contractors, approximately half of road markings were inadequate.
It also pointed to a recent media report, which stated that Tesla’s semi-autonomous vehicle sporadically refused to drive itself – during a press event – because of poor quality road markings.
The RSMA’s submission to the inquiry also included recommendations to establish a working group in the UK in order to:
- work with industry in order understand the requirements of autonomous vehicle manufacturers, their trade bodies (e.g. SMMT), insurers
- identify and plan for future changes to Sector Scheme 7 and legislative requirements
- provide road marking industry input into road trials
- act as a focal point for knowledge transfer between different parts of industry, infrastructure designers, Central and Local Government and Government Agencies.
The committee’s first witnesses included Ian Yarnold, of the Department for Transport’s International Vehicle Standards Division, Iain Forbes, head of the Government's Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, and Professor David Lane, professor of autonomous systems engineering, and director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics at Heriot-Watt University.