back to article Didn't install a safety-critical driverless car patch? Bye, insurance!

Tinkering with your future driverless car's software and failing to install safety-critical updates will invalidate your insurance, under a newly proposed British law. "The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill 2017 is intended to enable consumers in the United Kingdom to be amongst the first in the world to reap the rewards …

  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Safety-critical updates?

    "The bill defines "safety-critical" as a patch where "it would be unsafe to use the vehicle in question without the updates being installed"."

    So...I have a prang on 1st Jan. On 2nd Jan a safety-critical update is released, which I immediately install.

    But this implies that on 1st Jan the car was already "unsafe to drive" - as it didn't have a not-yet-existent update. So the insurers can opt out, and I should be prosecuted for (unknowingly) driving an unsafe vehicle.

    Logical conclusion - as soon as manufacturer is aware of a flaw that will require a safety-critical patch, they must order all affected vehicles off the road until the patch is available.

    Can't see that going down well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      "Logical conclusion - as soon as manufacturer is aware of a flaw that will require a safety-critical patch, they must order all affected vehicles off the road until the patch is available."

      Sounds good to me... but then I'm very much in favour of getting human drivers off the road as soon as possible, given that a large number of us could do with a software patch or two for our driving skills and are blissfully unaware of the fact.

      1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
        Mushroom

        "... a large number of us could do with a software patch or two"

        Some just need "percussive maintenance".

        Or maybe "wall to wall counselling" as it used to be called.

      2. graeme leggett

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        That would be the equivalent of a recall as practiced by manufacturers of current vehicles.

        Dealer emailing or phoning you. Or worst case, coverage on the 9 o'clock news. But also your responsibility to see your car is fit to drive.

      3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        Logical conclusion - as soon as manufacturer is aware of a flaw that will require a safety-critical patch..

        This is exactly the current system with aircraft.

        The manufacturer can order immediate grounding until the fix is applied, or it must be applied within n days or at the next service interval - depending on the severity.

        If there is a recall on your current car it doesn't mean you need to be constantly on the NTSB's webstie and screech to a halt as soon as a safety notice is published.

      4. Goldmember

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        "Patch released at (for argument's sake) 12 noon. Accident at 2pm. Is that negligent? Or is it a reasonable delay?"

        It would make sense to remove the user from the software update process entirely, especially if the updates are potentially safety critical. Have over the air updates automatically download and install. Then the insurers would have to pay out to the user and to any third parties in the event of an accident. By all means inform the user when an update is ready/ has been applied, but removing the responsibility and putting this on the manufacturer should solve that particular problem for the most part.

        This would then mean insurers can only reasonably wiggle out of paying if the user has purposely modified the ROM to stop updates, or has installed custom updates.

        However if an update fails, although I would hope the car would let the user know about it, it could create a pretty big legal headache and would possibly shift some of the liability back onto the manufacturer/ software publisher.

    2. Cynical Observer
      FAIL

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      Had similar thought - on slightly different timelines. Patch released at (for argument's sake) 12 noon. Accident at 2pm. Is that negligent? Or is it a reasonable delay?

      If it's the second, what constitutes a "Reasonable Delay?" What if I don't update for 1 day? 2 days? Where exactly is the threshold?

      Do autonomous cars come with a data tariff and 3g connection? What if I'm in the Scottish Highlands or the Welsh Hills where coverage is poor?

      This has shades of being as poorly drafted as the Government's psychoactive substances abuse bill.*

      A recent prosecution for using nitrous oxide was thrown out as it has a legitimate medical use. The accused wasn't using if for that purpose but case dismissed nonetheless.

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        Poor drafting?

        Let's face it, based on recent laws, whoever drafts them couldn't draft a specification for a paper bag. Writing a law (which needs to be very precise) cannot be done on the basis of a turning a few knee-jerk ministerial comments based on invalid prejudices into legalese.

        1. nijam

          Re: Safety-critical updates?

          > Let's face it, based on recent laws, whoever drafts them couldn't draft a specification for a paper bag.

          Missing the point - laws are drafted to provide future employment for lawyers. Anything else is merely a side-effect.

      2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        If the law is implemented as suggested there are two issues - the bit of insurer's liability depending on whether or not a patch has been applied, not too tricky providing the points about reasonable delay etc are allowed for, but the more critical bit is the definition of an unsafe vehicle. Unsafe means unsafe (to coin a phrase) regardless of whether patches have been fitted, and driving one is an offence. I suspect that not knowing it was unsafe is not a defence. Think of a car with a valid MOT from 9 months ago, which has since developed problems with the brakes. You crash because of faulty brakes, you're in the doo-doo.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Safety-critical updates?

          Would you be held responsible for faulty brakes that did not manifest until the point of failure?

          More worrying (to me) is what happens when a software patch does a Microsoft Update, I don't mean the reboot half way up the M6 bit, (but then again...). I mean when the update stalls half way through, and no known method to restart it will ever take effect. Saying this after the Fall Update fell over, partly installed. Restored to previous version And now won't admit there's a newer version to install - no great loss TBH.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        These interesting questions will be thrashed out in the courts. As usual with laws.

        One effect of the law would be for manufacturers to be proactive in

        1) not releasing software until they've been through it multiple times under the most testing conditions

        2) designing with fail-safe in mind,

        3) systems for contacting owners and implementing the patch for minimum disruption

        1. ACZ

          Re: Safety-critical updates?

          Remember - this bill primarily deals with (a) liability of insurers, and (b) EV charging. Current draft is: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0112/cbill_2017-20190112_en_2.htm#pt1-l1g4

          Doesn't mean that it will illegal not to install a CarOS patch or root/install a custom firmware, but it might mean you're not insured.

          Big thing is that this is enabling legislation, and is therefore intentionally broad, so that it works now and decades into the future - fundamental principles are in there to provide stability/certainty, and then it's up to insurers and courts to deal with the real-life scenarios.

          So this will all come down to the insurers, who will in turn force the hand of manufacturers as per AC's comment above. Insurers will also have to come up with some good standard T&Cs, e.g. requiring patch installation within a "reasonable period" which they define e.g. no more than 7 days of public release by the vehicle manufacturer. Manufacturers will presumably have to push delivery of OTA patching on release, and force install within a given time period, e.g. at the end of the period preventing new journeys until the patch is installed. Manufacturers might also have to e.g. provide very clear and prominent notifications about CarOS patch status before commencement of a journey.

          Rooted CarOS - probably wave goodbye to being insured, at least with any conventional insurer. Rooted entertainment system - might still be insured *if* it doesn't have any impact on vehicle safety, but read the fine-print on the insurance contract. Might encourage a truly hard (physical) divide between car-critical systems and entertainment, but that's going to require the manufacturers to go for safety over shiny things, convenience and cost, so odds of that happening?...

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. herman Silver badge

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        In law, a 'reasonable time' is commonly taken as 14 days.

      5. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        A recent prosecution for using nitrous oxide was thrown out

        Was it laughed out of court?

        Sorry. I now return you to the serious matter at hand...

        I imagine the courts will reasonably quickly interpret any ambiguity in the law as meaning that the person responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle (which might not be the driver at the time) has done nothing wilful (for example, preventing an update taking palce) or negligent (such as ignoring an instruction to update or a recall notice). We're quite likely to see a scenario in which most autonomous vehicles are not owned by the people who use them, but by large fleets who arrange for a vehicle to be outside your door when you want one and returned to a pool (and charged) awaiting the next user, so the driver liability for maintenance is likely to be negligible.

        1. keith_w

          Re: Safety-critical updates?

          That has been my thought about autonomous vehicles since people started talking about them. Why bother going to the expense of buying one when you can use your phone app to get your favourite luxury vehicle waiting at your door, fully charged and ready to go. Even the vomit from the previous nights last user cleaned up and de-odorized.

      6. BongoJoe

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        What if I'm in the Scottish Highlands or the Welsh Hills where coverage is poor?

        Poor? I would say none at all if anyone were living where I was outside of Aberdaron. So imagine the scenario: it's market day and the ffarmers from all around are all going to Bryncir for the day which has really poor data coverage. But it has data coverage. Of dial-up speeds

        Then all the vehicles start to receive a patch. The download demand will swamp the broadband and nothing will get done that day. Never mind, there's always next week when the farmers all meet again. And they can all download a few more kilobytes of data each.

        But. What's this? Another update? Okay, we'll start again.

        Even if one could plug in the vehicle into the home 'broadband' then that would be next to useless. It wasn't uncommon for me to take three days (yes, DAYS!) to download a PS/4 game over our broadband.

      7. Pat Harkin

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        Doesn't the same thing apply to product recalls now? If a manufacturer realsies "Whoops the brakes don't work on Tuesday" and issue a recall notice, there must be case precedent for what is a reasonable time and due diligence to respond?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      Common sense says that this shouldn't be implemented materially differently from what we have at the moment for a manually driven car. If a safety critical manufacturing or design defect is discovered (e.g. braking system fault) a recall is issued to all owners of affected cars. You are given a reasonable amount of time to get the car into a garage and fixed free of charge. Sometimes the biggest delay is capacity at the garages if the recall is big. From the moment the car is built to when you get if fixed the manufacturer has a level of liability for the issue. If however you ignore the recalls and don't get it fixed, after a reasonable time the manufacturers liability diminishes to zero.

      1. HereIAmJH

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        Since the cars are self driving, does that mean you can set parameters for when you don't need your car, and it could drive itself to the dealer for the update? For once the dealership would be able to work around my schedule. That would certainly cut down the delay on getting recalls fixed. Not sure when I'm going to have time to go to the dealer to get the seatbelt retractor recall fixed. Or get the bolts in the steering box replaced for another recall.

    4. nijam

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      > But this implies that on 1st Jan the car was already "unsafe to drive" - as it didn't have a not-yet-existent update.

      And the insurers will promptly - and retroactively - disallow all earlier claims and demand the money back.

      1. JEDIDIAH
        Linux

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        It sounds like a nice idea at first (if you're a Ferengi) but stuff like this would permanently crater the insurance business. Insurance companies can't be TOTALLY untrustworthy. They can only be somewhat untrustworthy. Otherwise the entire business model falls apart.

        This sounds a bit like the industry trying to slit it's own throats.

        These places quite literally have posters to the effect of "take it but not give it back", but you can't really run the business that way. The product becomes worthless.

    5. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      Given that most people do not seem able to update their 'Smart' phones dare I presume that insurers are already rubbing their hands in glee at the promise of yet another get-out clause?

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        Isn't the problem more that Android phone manufacturers don't bother pushing out the updates?

        I can also see problems with car manufacturers getting bored supporting a model and not releasing updates for older cars (just like phones).

    6. Zippy's Sausage Factory
      Alert

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      Logical conclusion - as soon as manufacturer is aware of a flaw that will require a safety-critical patch, they must order all affected vehicles off the road until the patch is available insurance companies can rub their hands with glee as they won't have to pay out.

      FTFY.

      But seriously, did anyone else immediately see a loophole there, or am I just paranoid?

    7. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      Whatever the configuration, you can expect to be screwed by your insurance company anyway.

    8. Thought About IT

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      "Logical conclusion - as soon as manufacturer is aware of a flaw that will require a safety-critical patch, they must order all affected vehicles off the road until the patch is available."

      Actually, there is precedent for that with aircraft. There are many recorded incidents where flaws have been discovered which result in all affected aircraft being grounded until the problem has been fixed. To rub salt into the wound, the owners have to foot the bill.

    9. Jonathan Richards 1

      Re: Safety-critical updates?

      > order all affected vehicles off the road

      Nah, they'll disable it over the air: small print will call for a park_at_nearest_safe_location+switch_off() routine. They won't be willing to take the risk that the owner/driver has not kept patching up to date.

      Will Plod be able to stop a driver-less car [1] and interrogate its software build ID? Enquiring minds wish to know.

      [1] How?

      1. keith_w

        Re: Safety-critical updates?

        That would certainly be a fun hack for certain types of people.

  2. vilemeister

    So if your car inexplicably fails to install a safety critical update, you get blamed? Because I'll bet that the software vendor will say it works just fine.

    Just today we have had HP stuffing windows PCs because their images were wrong - and the blame was passed on from MS to HP and back and forth all while the users (me, I have one) had to do a workaround every time you rebooted.

    I just don't have faith in this. Call me cynical but both car manufacturers and software vendors have previous in this. God help us when its both combined.

    1. Cynical Observer
      Stop

      @vilemeister

      So if your car inexplicably fails to install a safety critical update, you get blamed? Because I'll bet that the software vendor will say it works just fine.

      Possibly not. One argument used in another jurisdiction to beat escalation in fines due to speeding tickets could work here. There was an issue about proving that the original ticket had been delivered - because they were sent out unrecorded delivery.

      Argument ran - "All my other post has been and is delivered satisfactorily, the ticket cannot have been sent correctly as it was not received." Judgement was that the ticket was not correctly served in accordance with the law and case was thrown out.

      Software vendor/car manufacture could/should be required to prove that the recipient car has successfully installed the patch - checksum or some such calculated from the patch and the VIN might be a start.

      1. Steve the Cynic

        "Argument ran - "All my other post has been and is delivered satisfactorily, the ticket cannot have been sent correctly as it was not received." Judgement was that the ticket was not correctly served in accordance with the law and case was thrown out."

        That's fascinating. In English civil cases, "proof of posting" suffices for "proof of service" for legal documents that are allowed to be served by post. (My experience with the English civil courts involves the small claims court(1), a statutory demand and a creditor's petition for bankruptcy - I was the creditor, thanks, so no comments from the audience please. I had to serve lots of paper.)

        For certain classes of paper (notably the statutory demand itself), postal service doesn't count *at*all*, and the paper must be served in person, although you are allowed to hire a local to do it for you. Private detectives do a roaring trade in this kind of thing Failing that, it is also permissible, in the words of the bloke who explained what was needed, to nail it to the other party's door provided that you swear an affidavit to that effect. He chuckled when I protested that I wasn't Martin Luther...

        (1) This doesn't actually exist as a separate thing. That type of action takes place in the same County Courts as non-small claims. The correct term is "Small Claims Track of the County Court".

        1. Cynical Observer
          Unhappy

          @Steve

          From one Cynic to another....

          The particular instance was in Ireland (I did say other jurisdiction) and looks like it may have been closed by now

          Importantly, they seem to have brought in the "Proof of Postage" counting as "Proof of Delivery"

      2. Eguro

        "Software vendor/car manufacture could/should be required to prove that the recipient car has successfully installed the patch "

        But the issue would be, that the insurance company claims you didn't have Patch 1.0001 installed, you'll say you tried, but the system didn't work, and software vendor will claim that you probably didn't try because see how many other times it did install without trouble.

        It's in the interest of both insurer and software vendor that you didn't try to update - so if you did you best have a video recording of your attempt.

    2. dcluley

      "I just don't have faith in this. Call me cynical but both car manufacturers and software vendors have previous in this. God help us when its both combined."

      That reminds me of a comment someone made to me many years ago along the lines of how accountants were rogues and lawyers were rogues so therefore insurance companies were chief rogues because they employed both accountants and lawyers and still made a profit.

  3. malle-herbert
    Coat

    So...

    If your car is old enough to NOT recieve any safety-critical updates anymore

    you're basically screwed ?

    Planned obsolescence indeed...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So...

      If it's too old to receive the update, there is no update.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So...

      OMG, so only two options

      1. Android on the go. You get patches for two years if you buy a Goggle Car, but if you buy a car from any other manufacturer you get one patch, 6 months after you buy it, and then spend the rest of your life wondering if you can be bothered to root the car to install the latest patch while the manufacturer fobs you off with muttering about 'next quarter' because they need to make sure the patch doesn't effect their overlayed UI with the flashy lights and the scrolling adverts.

      2. IOS Vroom. For this you do get updates, but each round of update makes your car go a little slower, until after about 4 rounds it will only drive you to the nearest white shiny thing store at about 5 mph.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So...

        Oops

        I'm bad. I forgot:

        3. Windows whizz. It's actually really good, but no one sells it and anyway it will be dropped by MS about a week after you buy the car.

        4. Linux for cars. This would be a great option, if you could only work out which version to install, and don't mind the fact that while safety critical patches are released really promptly, you have to park up and crawl under the car with a spanner and a command line interface and remember about 20 lines of syntactically fussy code to get the update installed. It also turns out that no-one wrote a driver for the boot opening hardware, so you can' drive the car, but can't carry any luggage.

        1. Baldrickk Silver badge

          4. Linux for cars.

          Still the best option of the lot.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So...

          Widows carz - go through multiple versions that get slight better but only last 6 months before needing to be reinstalled. By the time its OK the market has already been dominated by Android and Apple carz so it gets retired.

          Android carz - used by most of the car manufacturers but with a different interface. Has an app for everything, even opening the boot. Very cheap but filled with adverts for all sorts of cr@p.

          Apple carz - hideously expensive but works OK and only runs on one manufacturers cars. Again has an app for everything. Very popular with brand junkies.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: So...

            "Apple carz - hideously expensive but works OK and only runs on one manufacturers cars roads. Again has an app for everything. Very popular with brand junkies."

            FTFY :-)

            1. BongoJoe

              Re: So...

              Apple Carz - sues Samsung Carz for being able to handle corners...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So...

          Don't you just use the Boot Loader for that?

      2. Cynical Observer
        FAIL

        Re: So...

        @AC

        ... then spend the rest of your life wondering if you can be bothered to root the car to install the latest patch

        What's the betting that rooting the car for this purpose will fall foul of the law -

        And our survey says you're UNINSURED

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So...

          "What's the betting that rooting the car for this purpose will fall foul of the law -"

          It says exactly that in the article

    3. ACZ

      Re: So...

      Erm...the bill says that insurers don't have to cover you if there is "a failure to install safety-critical software updates that the insured person knows, or ought reasonably to know, are safety-critical".

      So if there's no "safety-critical software update" then you're still covered by your insurance policy. If the manufacturer EOLs the vehicle and stops supplying patches then the insurer can't dump the liability on you. Then again, it might not be possible (or might be very expensive) to insure vehicles (which drive themselves) when the manufacturer decides that they have gone EOL. Then again, you won't actually own a car anymore will you? Odds are you'll be in an Uber (or suchlike) vehicle.

      :)

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: So...

        "Odds are you'll be in an Uber (or suchlike) vehicle."

        Oh heavens! Order a car with Uber ... just a car, no driver but the car will hopefully know where it's going ... Is that better or worse than having a car with a driver in control who possibly doesn't know where they're going?

        1. keith_w

          Re: So...

          I think that either current taxi companies or auto manufacturers will be the ones renting you the autonomous vehicle. I would be more likely to trust an autonomous vehicle from Ford, GM, Jaguar-Rover, BMW, the VW group, rather than one designed by Uber or Lyft.

    4. keith_w

      Re: So...

      My spouse's 2006 Corolla received the air bag replacement last year. So not like cell phones.

  4. Jon 37

    There's no grace period in the bill for you to install a software update. If the update is released at 3pm and you get a "safety critical update available" message, and you are driving at the time, then you crash at 3:01pm, then your insurer can deny coverage.

    There's no requirement in the bill for a software update to have been *released* by the manufacturer. If you know there is a safety critical update and don't install it, then your insurer can deny coverage, even if it was impossible for you to install it (e.g. because the manufacturer hasn't released it yet).

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      If the update is released at 3pm and you get a "safety critical update available" message, and you are driving at the time, then you crash at 3:01pm, then your insurer can deny coverage.

      Also given the current regime concerning manufacturers recall, I expect a safety critical update to be in the same category and thus the relevant government department will have determined whether vehicles with the defect are or are not roadworthy (until they are updated). If they deem such vehicles to be unroadworthy then no insurance and a fine for driving an unroadworthy and thus untaxed and uninsured vehicle on the road (unless you can show you were driving it to a garage).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Also of course, as we all already know from experience, all updates are always infallible, are perfectly tested for every possible case and never cause unexpected issues in the current codebase.

      What happens when a safety critical patch comes out, I immediately install it. My car then encounters some corner case never reversion tested in the patch. The car crashes.

      "Ahh, we fixed that in the re-released version of the patch on Thursday."

  5. SVV Silver badge

    Safety Critical Patches

    Of course, this just admits that the things are unsafe in the first place. Say you've been riding around in one for three years and then a safety critical flaw is found in the software after a string of horrid pile-ups. Is installing a patch going to put your mind at rest about safety? I've plenty of experience of seeing bug fixes released that then cause new and even bigger problems. How many patches before it's really "safe"? Releasing buggy software and then in effect having the users find the bugs is all too common a practice. In a car it would be criminal negligence at best.

    Selling unsafe goods is not allowed, and the government should not be so dazzled by the new shiny tech that they don't treat these things with extreme caution.

    1. Cynical Observer
      Trollface

      Re: Safety Critical Patches

      @SVV

      Releasing buggy software and then in effect having the users find the bugs is all too common a practice. In a car it would be criminal negligence at best.

      Finding the bugs in this case is easy - they're on the windscreen

      1. nijam

        Re: Safety Critical Patches

        > Finding the bugs in this case is easy - they're on the windscreen

        One the inside of the windscreen, in serious cases.

    2. Nick Kew Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Safety Critical Patches

      Selling unsafe goods is not allowed

      Wow! What country is this, and when did they ban selling of cars?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "it would be unsafe to use the vehicle in question without the updates being installed"

    What about if an update just reduces the risk of an event leading to an accident?

    It is common for safety to be based on risk mitigation as absolute avoidance of danger is often impossible - the car was not "unsafe" before or after the update, but it is now safer.

    1. tfewster Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: "it would be unsafe to use the vehicle in question without the updates being installed"

      "Modding": e.g. to improve fuel economy?

      "Unsafe": If the car is unsafe now, it was unsafe before. Unless a change to the Highway Code made in "unsafe"

      BOHICA: "The intention behind the proposed Bill is to emphasise that if there is an accident the compensation route for the individual remains within the motor insurance settlement framework, rather than through a product liability framework against a manufacturer."

  7. The Mole

    Will there ever be vehicles driving itself?

    "a vehicle is "driving itself" if it is operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, by an individual"

    Whilst sounding like a definition it fails (at least in this part) to actually define anything.

    If I tell my car the final destination does that mean I'm controlling it? What if mid journey I tell it to adjust the route to avoid traffic am I now controlling it? What if there is a button to hint it changes lane as that one looks like it is going faster?

    What if there is a dashboard indicator 'take manual control' that may flash (or with alarm bells etc) if the car decides it needs human intervention due to an unexpected situation (poor weather, sensor failure, aliens on the road). Even if it only happens once in 10000 miles is the mere possibility of it happening and the requirement to monitor for it occurring sufficient to mean that the car 'needs monitoring' by an individual?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Will there ever be vehicles driving itself?

      | If I tell my car the final destination does that mean I'm controlling it?

      No. The Taxi passenger doesn't control the car.

      | What if mid journey I tell it to adjust the route to avoid traffic am I now controlling it?

      No. Your buddy with the navi app doesn't control the car.

      | What if there is a button to hint it changes lane as that one looks like it is going faster?

      No. Your spouse in the passenger seat doesn't control the car.

      | What if there is a dashboard indicator 'take manual control' that may flash (or with alarm bells etc) if the car decides it needs human intervention

      That would be a mode change. It's debatable whether this kind of hybrid autonomous drive should even be allowed and what an autonomous car should do while the manual alarm is blaring until the driver acknowledges control.

      In most cases (sensor degradation), the car should probably turn on the emergency lights and roll to a stop or a parking position if it can still safely identify it. In other cases (logic confused by unexpected reflections), it might be too late anyway. Just slam on the brakes and hope the auto auto behind got all its sensors together.

  8. Christoph Silver badge

    "a vehicle is "driving itself" if it is operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, by an individual"

    Problem is that there will always be extreme cases which require human intervention.

    For instance, a complex road junction has major roadworks on it. Someone installed the signage badly, one of the lights has broken, a sign has blown down, and a vandal has moved another sign to the wrong place.

    There is simply no way for an automated vehicle to work out the correct path to follow. It can only stop and ask for help.

    Of course that might come from someone connecting remotely (especially if the car has no passengers at the time). But that in itself can be very tricky, trying to work out what's going on just seeing via cameras.

    If the assistance is coming from the passenger, who is currently half asleep, blind drunk, or is using an automated vehicle due to not having a driving licence or being disabled and physically unable to drive, then it's going to make some lawyers very rich.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Christoph

      This reminds me of the Chinese pilot that had thousands of flying hours but never landed a plane manually (without autopilot) and crashed short of the runway threshold in California.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It really

    doesn't get to the crux of the matter though does it.

    Too many people all with too many cars on a highway system designed 60 years ago for a quarter of the current volume of traffic.

    I'm not holding my breath for purely electric cars.

    The batteries are too low in energy density and cost too much. My petrol tank wont need replacing or lose half its capacity in 5 years time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It really

      Actually it does. The idea is...in theory...that you can put more cars in the same space, as they are alert all the time and communicating with each other.

      Also, Electric is fine for towns and cities where probably 90% of traffic and journeys are. Provided you have a charge point.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Provided you have a charge point.

        force petrol station operators to install electric ... car charging points, and to advertise them.

        I'm sure they all have a spare 13A socket somewhere already...

        1. batfink Bronze badge

          Re: Provided you have a charge point.

          TBF Shell have just announced that they're about to start putting in some charge points at various services. From the map, these seem to form a ring around London, but I suppose you have to start somewhere.

          IIRC though they were talking about 1/2-hr charge times to some reasonable level. So, as EV's become more common, my old Ops Research theories would seem to indicate that queue lengths will soon become very interesting if each customer is tying up a "bowser" for 30 mins a time.

          So, I can only think that this is a very clever ploy by Shell to make their customers retreat to their overpriced cafes to have wallets drained while waiting...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It really

        How exactly are we going to produce the giga-watts of electricity needed to power all these cars?

        Christ, we barely have enough now.

        Are all car parks going to be retro fitted with charging points?

        Is a farce.

        Hybrids* are the way forward for the next 20 years.

        Electric motor with a petrol engine powering a generator. That's the most efficient way to operate an electric vehicle. A small, very small, petrol engine can provide a lot of power to charge batteries.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          Re: It really

          "How exactly are we going to produce the giga-watts of electricity needed to power all these cars?"

          You make charging at night when the grid has spare capacity significantly cheaper.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It really

            "You make charging at night when the grid has spare capacity significantly cheaper."

            And as soon as people actually start doing this in any numbers you don't have any spare capacity any more. Aside from pissing off people who used to use economy 7 to make their laundry cheaper what exactly will that have achieved?

            1. graeme leggett

              Re: It really

              "cheaper what exactly will that have achieved?"

              An illustration of the law of supply and demand...

              and/or

              An increase in the usage of roof mounted solar panels ?

          2. Anonymous IV
            Headmaster

            Re: It really

            > > "How exactly are we going to produce the gigawatts of electricity needed to power all these cars?"

            > You make charging at night when the grid has spare capacity significantly cheaper.

            Correction: you make charging during the day, to use up some of that surplus solar-generated electricity.

            1. Fonant
              Thumb Up

              Re: It really

              You charge your car all the time it is not being driven, which is most of the time.

              The car batteries also form excellent local storage to allow the grid to even out electricity supply to meet varying demand, given some form of "smart" control.

              Watch Robert Llewellyn's "Fully Charged Show" on YouTube, it's fascinating: https://www.youtube.com/user/fullychargedshow

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It really

              "Correction: you make charging during the day, to use up some of that surplus solar-generated electricity".

              Yes, that'll work well. in the UK we have 360 days* a year of pure sunshine.

              *sorry, hours.

        2. Joe Harrison

          Re: It really

          I accidentally met a guy who is a rocket-scientist level car designer in Germany. He said the future is two-stroke engines. Thanks to Honda they have got a bad name and people think they are greasy smelly things but he was completely sure about it. Didn't talk to him long enough to find out whether electric hybrid would be in the mix as well.

          1. Real Ale is Best

            Re: It really

            Aren't gas turbines more efficient? For charging a battery, you would want a constant output, and that would suit a gas turbine much better than using it to power the wheels directly.

        3. Jonathan Richards 1

          Re: It really

          > A small, very small, petrol engine can provide a lot of power to charge batteries

          I think you mean *energy*. Power is the rate of energy use. Further, an electric car that gets its electricity from burning petrol to turn a generator is a petrol-powered car, innit? Every joule of energy used in moving the car has come from burning the petrol. A plug-in hybrid answers that criticism, of course.

      3. Hero Protagonist

        Re: It really

        "they are alert all the time and communicating with each other."

        Are they? Is anyone actually working on self-driving cars that talk to each other (including cars of other manufacturers)? AFAIK the current crop under development do not. And how would that even work when initially (and for a significant period going forward) they would not be able to talk to an overwhelming majority of the other cars (meatsack-driven) around them?

        1. Pursebearer

          Re: It really

          In the UK it is the driver that has the insurance, not the car. So will a non driver (no license/blind/under age) be able to buy a 'driverless' vehicle and run it without any insurance?

  10. Flywheel Silver badge

    "Remind me later"

    Soddit. I'm buying a horse. Or a donkey: they're smaller and tougher.

    1. Solarflare

      Re: "Remind me later"

      Stick with the horse, they know all about battery staples after all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Remind me later"

        "Stick with the horse, they know all about battery staples after all."

        Correct.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: "Remind me later"

      For pure pulling power, go with an ox. May not be fast though.

  11. Alan Brown Silver badge

    other parts of the article:

    "Also included in the bill are future provisions to allow government to force petrol station operators to install electric and even hydrogen car charging points, and to advertise them. "

    That's going to force a lot of places to close down - for economic reasons in rural areas, and for safety reasons in urban ones (Hydrogen/CNG storage tanks are effectively a large bomb waiting for a detonator. You can't have stations "too close" together (as in, less than about mile) in case one going off causes a chain reaction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: other parts of the article:

      Flawed Argument.

      Rural ones could actually benefit from electric charge points.

      Think about it, when the city folk pop out to their garden, at least they will have to stop and charge; maybe have a bite to eat and a drink, providing money to the pterol station. Then they can carry on with their fly tipping, grumbling about horse shit on the roads and suffering road rage because they have to go through a muddy puddle in their stupid over sized pseudo-agricultural vehicle.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: other parts of the article:

        Except they never get that far because of the huge upfront costs (infrastructure like this is notorious for being a high barrier of entry) that will be tricky to recover given that rural electricity rates are already troublesome. Plus if you're handling something potentially explosive like hydrogen or CNG, you're probably going to be forced to build special blast-safe storage facilities for them at additional exorbitant cost.

    2. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: other parts of the article:

      Seems particularly ill-considered: how many drivers will want to hang around a petrol station while the chariot gets recharged? Fortunately in the real world, people are installing them more sensibly in car parks: for example, at retail outlets such as supermarkets, city centres and park-and-ride, leisure venues such as theatre/music/cinema, etc.

      Eventually it'll be depots for summon-a-car fleets. Recharging along with cleaning and other maintenance.

  12. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Did anyone spot the fallacy?

    Equating Tesla's current Autopilot with level 4-5 automation.

    Germany was right to demand it be called something else.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Re: Did anyone spot the fallacy?

      I read it as the opposite - that Auto-pilot requires the driver to remain alert and ready to take control at any time.

      One of us needs to go back and read the article.

      "This [...] recognises the need to distinguish between automated technology which is intended to be accompanied by human monitoring (like Tesla's Autopilot)

  13. Cab

    The future is bright...

    I, for one, am ecstatically looking forward to the day where I get in my car ready to set off (with excited kids / to important business meeting / where ever the hell people go) and am greeted by :

    "We are updating your driving software. Please do not switch off the engine. 1% complete."

    1. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: The future is bright...

      Oh my god

      *head in hands*

      I can just see this happening too!

      Have an upvote!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The future is bright...

      Or this:

      https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DB4eV3VUIAElh_y.jpg

  14. Dieter Haussmann

    This is against EU miniumum insurance law.

    That is why the certificate says NOTICE TO THIRD PARTIES - THERE IS NOTHING ON THIS CERTIFICATE THAT DENIES YOUR RIGHT AS A TO CLAIM.

  15. abedarts

    Customers won't do it

    We read of endless security issues caused by IT professionals having not applied crucial patches so the chances of Joe Public doing it correctly and in a timely manner are basically zilch.

    Autonomous cars will need to apply updates (patches) automatically, just like smartphone apps do now.

    1. nijam

      Re: Customers won't do it

      "Autonomous cars will need to apply borks (patches) automatically"

      FTFY

    2. batfink Bronze badge

      Re: Customers won't do it

      Agreed. However, the ensuing reboots at 70mph will make your journey that little bit more interesting...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Customers won't do it

      "Autonomous cars will need to apply updates (patches) automatically, just like smartphone apps do now".

      Yes, automatics updates don't ever brick devices do they.

  16. Chris G Silver badge

    Credentials

    Lucy McCormick a barrister specialising in connected and self driving vehicles.

    Where did she study the subject and how qualified in the engineering aspects of the subject is she?

    Maybe she got cramp chasing ambulances.

    Overall, I still think the first big rollout of self driving cars will end in tears due to being 'driven' by marketing wonks and politicians who don't have much idea of what is really involved.

    After the tears perhaps people will begin to take serious look at it.

    1. BoldMan

      Re: Credentials

      I was thinking exactly the same thing - she must have very little work to do at the moment except for doodling and "blue sky thinking"... who pays her salary?

      1. The Mole

        Re: Credentials

        Well considering how much money they charge for the 'real' work I imagine the gaps between cases whilst they wait to find the next whale are more than ample to fit in becoming an 'expert' on this subject!

    2. ma1010 Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Credentials

      I know what you mean by "driven by marketing wonks and politicians" but what if we take it literally and actually issue the first self-driving cars to those folks?

      We could give them special patches to seek out hovercraft ramps or cliffs; probably be cheaper than building and launching "B" Ark, with the same happy outcome.

  17. PickledAardvark

    It's a Bill

    It's a Bill and nobody really expects it to become an Act of Parliament.

    It's a rubbish Bill. It isn't the result of green and white paper flyers suggesting how and why it might work.

    It's a rubbish Bill like the one which became the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

    So it might become law like how the dogs act fouled up.

  18. FordPrefect

    I'd guess in practice you'd need some sort of marking system to decide how critical a patch was and something thats easy for a customer to understand ie 1-10 with anything above 5 being installed within a suitable window. ie give people a week or a month grace before it invalidates there insurance.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trust the good old insurance industry of getting in there early.

    Why do I need insurance? I'm not driving the car, I have no control over the car, what exactly are you insuring me for? Sure the car might need insurance but that's got to be nothing because these things won't have accidents so I'm told but then why should I pay the insurance for someone else's software I have no control over?

    This stinks and I hope someone challenges it in 2150 when they finally roll them out.

    All this you must be updated crap is a joke, what if a patch comes out when I'm out of signal range? Am I still to blame? How do I get the car into signal range when I don't even know the patch exists? and no we won't have full data coverage by 2150, we'll be lucky if 80% have 4g by then.

    Bah Humbug, I'm sticking to my bike.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Why do I need insurance?

      Why do I need home insurance? I'm not driving my house anywhere. When I'm away on holiday or at work, I'm not even doing anything in the building either - I shouldn't have to pay for my house insurance when I'm not there...

      The insurance isn't just there because of anything you might do. It's also there to protect against actions of others.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Why do I need insurance?

        The insurance isn't just there because of anything you might do. It's also there to protect against actions of others.

        Except for "acts of God", those aren't covered. So, not all "others". That exclusion on most policies I've seen gives me the creeps.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Bah Humbug, I'm sticking to my bike."

      Must be LOTS of fun during the rainy season, which I believe is most of the year over there (the rest of the year is blizzard season IINM).

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back inthe day there was a time when Microsoft did a new "build" of both Windows and MS Office at the end of every single working day. The version was identifiable by the long serial version number on the software.

    Of course only periodic versions of the software were burned to the CD/DVD that was shrink wrapped, but in the new world where everything is online surely the question arises as to how "current", current software should actually be.

    So your self-driving car ploughs into a bus queue and you call Google... "sorry we released an update yesterday - did you not install that?" - instant get out every time...

  21. Notwork

    Can I get an insurance policy to cover me for down rev patches?

    1. Cynical Observer
      Trollface

      Only if your car has a new improved rev counter...

  22. DJO Silver badge

    Insurance

    Well obviously the insurance company will pay out for an accident but who will pay the initial premium and the higher premium following an accident which was not the fault of the car owner who might have been sitting in the "drivers" seat.

    If the accident is due to an inadequacy of the software then it would be logical and fair for the software provider to foot the increase in the insurance bill. Like that's going to happen!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Windows 10 updates

    Our politicians live in a Windows world. Auto updates you can't easily turn off. If you get sick of your car stopping to get an update that may add 1) a parking ticket and 2) an hour to your 10 minute journey, then you fall foul of the insurance. If the patch bsod's your car, tough. If you get stuck in the dodgy part of town and get robbed or murdered, tough. I look forward to traffic jams in road works because your car can't pull over to stop so after bleeping for 10 seconds simply stops for the update.

    All this assumes 100% coverage for OTA updates of course (which our telcos will claim cover 95% of the population, just like fast internet)

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, lemmings have to install updates on their cars...

    Well, that's going to work really well, as we can see now all the windows boxes out there in the real worlds are fully patched and ready to go!!

    On a side note, why do _I_ need insurance, I'm not driving or I should say I can't drive it as it's a driverless car. Are we going to have a new non-driving test along with lessons, where we learn to sit back in the car and do something productive like fecalbook updates?

    Not forgetting we can't have that huge wad of cash the insurance companies leech from the populace staying in the proles pockets rather than being handed to the 1%.

  25. Haku

    What if your car no longer receives updates because its too old or the company went bust?

    Will you be forced to buy a new car just to get insurance?

  26. Paul Johnson 1

    Separate safety updates from everything else.

    All well and good, provided that the manufacturers are prohibited from tying safety critical updates to other things, like changing the way the user interface works, the features available in your car, and any other reason that someone might say "I like the car the way it is, thanks" instead of upgrading.

    1. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: Separate safety updates from everything else.

      That was my first concern. If the manufacturers are like those of phones or computers, one can bet that a "critical Security update" will also include some "feature" whose purpose is to either force an upgrade (i.e. replacement) or otherwise monetize the user. Maybe pause in front of every fast-food outlet that has a co-branding agreement and suggest that "Now would be a great time for a Whopper(tm)". Or more subtly, make music streaming services that have not paid up mysteriously unreliable.

      And of course, once cars are chatting among each other, you'll be offered the ability to bid against all others in the vicinity to not be the target in the event of a "Trolley-car problem" occurring.

  27. Bob Dole (tm)
    Thumb Down

    This is a waste of time

    With my crystal ball out let me tell you what’s going to happen in the very near future.

    Individual car ownership is going the way of the dodo. Rather than sell these cars, manufacturers are going to rent them out. The manufacturers will carry their own insurance and handle any payments to those impacted in a wreck.

    Shortly after critical penetration of the market is reached today’s insurance companies are going to jack rates up on any meatbag that insists on driving themselves. It’ll become prohibitively expensive which will simply hasten the inevitable takeover. Groups like Uber and Lyft will grow like crazy as they switch over to driverless. Traditional rental car companies like Hertz will have to adapt or go out of business. If their existing airport infrastructures are owned by them, then they might be able to sell those items off to the new transportation Kings.

    The common person won’t care about insurance anymore as it will be rolled into the daily or

    monthly rental fees. Drivers license’s will also fade away and more people will end up getting a regular government ID.

    I’d say that if you own stock in any transportation based company you take a hard look at how these changes are going to impact them. I’d dump insurance and rental company stocks and I’d buy stock in Uber/lyft or one of the major manufacturers leading the way on driverless cars.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is a waste of time

      The cost of insurance is meant to be related to the cost of the risk of having them on the road. We rely on the free market to keep the purveyors of insurance cover honest - not perfect, but good enogh. When driverless cars are rolled out, there would be no good reason for the risk of meatsack driven cars to go up, so there's no good reason for all insurance companies to suddenly jack prices up unless they've got some other reason for doing so. I suspect the opposite is actually the case - insurance companies will actually lose out if they force all those human drivers off the road.

      It should also be remembered that insurance isn't a completely unfettered free market. If insurance providers did detriment a large section of the population by all pushing up prices like that they'd find themselves under investigation for market fixing and cartel behaviour.

      Sure, you can come up with scenarios where an unholy alliance of autonomous car manufacturers and government officials with hidden agendas try to force people off the road unless it's in one of their (government monitored) johnnycabs. It's possible, but it would be a bold move in a society where lots of people actually like their cars.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: This is a waste of time

        "We rely on the free market to keep the purveyors of insurance cover honest - not perfect, but good enogh. When driverless cars are rolled out, there would be no good reason for the risk of meatsack driven cars to go up, so there's no good reason for all insurance companies to suddenly jack prices up unless they've got some other reason for doing so."

        Statistics will be used against the meatsacks. Once you have a critical mass of automated cars who are demonstrably much less likely to get into accidents, simple human error becomes the main reason for jacking up insurance for those who insist on driving themselves, especially since meatsack incidents are more likely to domino and involve other vehicles (think things like DUIs and ghost driving).

        "It's possible, but it would be a bold move in a society where lots of people actually like their cars."

        Is this backed up with unemotional statistics, because from where I sit, most people don't like their cars so much as tolerate them as an unfortunate necessity in a world where the weather's bad, the mass transit isn't very timely, and cabs are too expensive for one's budget.

  28. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about the damned batteries

      A colleague of mine noticed a petrol smell in his car when driving down the motorway and had to open his window the fumes were so bad. As he was pulling off at the next junction his car conked out on the exit, then the engine bay burst into flames. Thankfully a passing motorist pulled him out of his seat before it went up completely - he was too dazed on the petrol fumes and startled by what was happening to get out of there on his own. The point of this story is that anecdotes don't really help here. Hydrocarbon fuelled cars also have their incidents of vehicle fires, both after crashes and spontaneously whilst driving.

      According to Tesla, the safety record of their battery cars in this regard is better than that of diesel and petrol cars. Of course, that's not a like for like comparison, as their mostly newish cars are being compared to a mixed fleet of new petrol/diesels and ancient old clunkers with leaky fuel systems. As a consumer all you can do is expect the vehicle licensing agency to have done a proper assessment of the safety risks of these vehicles before licensing them for road use.

  29. Milton Silver badge

    Good riddance to an entire industry

    Seems to me that the death knell of the auto insurance industry has started to toll. It'll take time, to be sure, but when you factor in—

    * Robo-cars will have orders of magnitude fewer accidents than those driven by people, 50% of whom become idiots as soon as they're behind the wheel. The remaining accidents will rarely lead to expensive claims because of lower speeds.

    * Insurers will cease to insure individuals because the latter have turned into passengers and there is very little for actuaries to do: some people being born now won't ever have a "driving record".

    * Soon enough the risk and consequential damage disparity between human- and robo-driven cars will force most drivers off the road either by law or through prohibitive premiums. There will also be a cultural sea-change, to the point where the majority of people will prefer *not* to ride in a human-controlled vehicle.

    * The premium-hiking manipulations of insurers will cease, for the above reasons and because your premium won't be doubled because you got nicked once two years ago for speeding, or failed a drug test, or ran a red light (whose enforcement cameras, in some jurisdictions, are actually paid for by insurance companies to increase offence rates so that premiums can be raised). Or because you've had your 55th birthday and had a no-fault accident, leading to a tripled premium next year.

    * The highly lucrative area of disputed claims will largely vanish, as black boxes and cameras will tell all. Insurers *and* their ambulance-chasing parasites known as lawyers will stop cashing in.

    —it's hard to see much point in having hundreds of insurance companies all pitching their "unique" and "special" products (which are designed with bells, whistles and mostly valueless "extras" to make it impossible to compare like for like on price), none of whom will make significant profits any more.

    By which point the government might as well create a national transport insurance agency, integrate it completely with vehicle licensing and taxation, and put any surpluses back into the Treasury.

    As arguably the only industry even more corrupt and dishonest than banking, it will be a case of good riddance to auto insurance.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Good riddance to an entire industry

      "As arguably the only industry even more corrupt and dishonest than banking, it will be a case of good riddance to auto insurance."

      Wrong. You forget the worse, and your plan plays right into their hands. Incidentally, it's also probably the one industry that's impossible to avoid without anarchy.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tinkering with your future driverless car's software

    no linux bootups for you, sonny! And no hacked hud-to-brain enhancements, or else the plod will go after you with the full weight of the law (unlike when you get hacked yourself, old-style, through the patio door!)

  31. Libertarian Voice

    It is a bit 2 dimensional

    They seem to be thinking along the lines that car ownership will be similar to what it is now (and it simply will not be). Most journeys will be made by autonomous courier vehicles which will be hired by the journey or be provided as part of an automated courier service. For personal transportation most people will opt for an autonomous Uber like service (probably integrating with high speed rail for longer journeys).

    By the time cars become fully autonomous they will also be electric and so will likely take themselves off to an induction loop type charging system when they are not needed; This sort of infrastructure will make personal car ownership a little silly for the majority of people and the big tech firms that are ploughing all their money into autonomous vehicles can see this. Uber is base class for the future of personal transportation; nearly all autonomous vehicle use will be derived from it (and this legislation will not fit well with that model).

    The good news is that the government's favourite cash cow (the motorist) will no longer provide it with the revenue that it likes to steal; The not so good news is that, government being government, it will find new and innovative ways to steal money from individuals.

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