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Fleets should “look beyond” full autonomy at other possible uses of new assisted driver technology, says the U.K.-based fleet organization the Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP).

Paul Hollick, chair at the industry body, said the promise of entirely self-driving cars was unlikely to materialize soon but other potentially useful — and even transformational — ideas were coming to fruition.

“General agreement seems to be emerging across the autonomous tech field that the target of full ‘level five’ autonomous driving is still some years away, if indeed its inherent problems can ever be solved,” said Hollick.

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Fleets may have much to gain by envisioning tech potentials beyond autonomous driving. “There is much that can be done with the related technology that is available, and fleets should be both looking at its possibilities and thinking about infrastructure to ensure its safe use,” said Hollick.

Since the U.K. may be more open than other countries in allowing this technology on public roads, “We may effectively be asked to become early adopters — with both the risks and rewards that brings,” said Hollick.

Some fleets already operate vehicles with level 2 autonomy such as lane changing and self-parking systems, Hollick observed. He believes level 3 autonomy, which allows fully automatic driving on some roads such as motorways with the driver ready to take control if needed, is growing close to production models.

The AFP recommends fleets to consider how they view these levels of assistance. Essentially, levels of autonomy rely on the driver intervening if the technology fails, but “it is all too easy to envisage situations where this handover to driver does not happen.” Risk management and Duty of Care implications of this technology undergo serious examination, the group advises.

“Especially, because these driving modes may be soon available on cars that are entering production, there is a chance they may arrive on your fleet almost by stealth,” Hollick pointed out. “You need to know if vehicles with these levels of autonomy are being used on your fleet and ensure that drivers are familiar with the technology and how it works. There are very clear risks.”

However, said Hollick, fleets should continue to investigate and, where appropriate, assess the potential advantages of reducing driver stress and cutting accident rates.

“These assisted forms of driving could prove to be valuable in terms of the benefits they bring. They just need to be properly managed within a framework where drivers understand the limitations and their responsibilities as an employee and road user,” said

Autonomous technology provides other intriguing possibilities, such as fleet access to services that use remote driving, Hollick commented. “Our Future Mobility Committee recently saw a presentation from Fetch, which plans to use remote driving to deliver car club-style services, with trials underway in Milton Keynes. It’s early days for this kind of tech, but the potential is considerable.”

According to blogger Bryant Walker Smith at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, remote driving is more than mere remote assistance, but involves performing all or part of what is termed the “dynamic driving task” — monitoring the driving environment and braking, accelerating, steering, and signaling as needed.

Remote driving may solve many problems inherent in higher levels of autonomy while delivering some of the most important advantages, said Hollick, citing a wide range of potential fleet applications. For example, he suggested, “If hire cars can be delivered to the point of need at short notice without the need for a delivery driver to be present, that would be a massive advantage and open up pay-on-use car services to a much wider audience.”

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