Autonomous driving and its extras: that’s how safe they are – according to experts

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The technology fair CES showed that the new age for car manufacturers has long since begun. Daimler, BMW and Co. proudly presented their latest digital inventions. The heart and nerve center, as the head of technology at Daimler Sajjad Khan put it, is apparently no longer the engine but the digital assistant – in the case of Mercedes Benz the hyperscreen. How powerful a car is is increasingly being measured in bytes rather than just horsepower.

The degree of digitization is becoming a key selling point, say experts. The car must feel like a second home, which is why entertainment tools such as speakers on the headrests or game consoles are slowly pouring onto the market. Such gadgets require at least level four of autonomous driving – and with increasing automation, so do the requirements for safety in the car.

Even gadgets must have the TÜV

That can already be seen. Because the hyperscreen is also intended for cars that do not reach level 4. Some functions are therefore not entirely unproblematic, says Tobias Naujoks, partner and car expert at the management consultancy KPMG to “In a Tesla, the windshield wiper has to be switched on in a submenu on the screen, but a switch would be necessary for such a safety-relevant function.” be more intuitive.

The TÜV also has to adapt to innovations. However, a lot is decided on a case-by-case basis, says Andreas Schäffler, Head of Homologation from Tüv Süd to The safety of speakers, game consoles or screens can often only be determined after some time of use. The number of accidents often decides whether the responsibility lies with the driver or the manufacturer. The car manufacturer is only liable if the accidents take the system. So whether music is distracting and too loud or not is mostly up to you.

The weak point in the car

From level four, however, a new security topic opens up: hacking. I can’t imagine what would happen if hackers were to decode systems en masse. It seems impossible for them to get into the car via the infotainment systems. “Driving-critical systems are of course separate from the entertainment and pure comfort functions,” says Naujoks.

So that the car remains protected from attacks, the United Nations (UN) and the Federal Ministry of Transport (BMVi) have been working for several years on a catalog of criteria that defines not only safety, but also ethical standards for programming the car.

The paragraphs on cyber security are comparatively small in the catalogs. The BMVi report only states that the “biggest accidental hacking accident” must be prevented by “giving greater support to systems from manufacturers and the state”. The UN declares that software systems should be as uniform as possible, or at least transparent to control bodies.

AI – better than humans?

The BMVi writes that autonomous driving and thus artificial intelligence (AI) is even required if it increases the safety of road users. The experts’ answer is clear: “If you want to make driving safer, you should rely on autonomous driving. Studies show: The greatest source of error is and remains the human being, ”says Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, Director of the CAR Center Automotive Research.

In fact, according to the 2019 accident statistics, a good 91.4 percent of all traffic accidents were the result of human error: for example, mistakes when turning, driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to observe the safety distance. AI is supposed to replace humans as a source of error – if it does not do that, it could seriously damage the manufacturer’s reputation and would entail immense costs for them. Car manufacturers are therefore increasingly concentrating on cyber security, as it is in the industry’s own interest to guarantee the highest security standards, writes the automobile association.

Cyber ​​security in the vehicle

“Safety is the top priority for manufacturers – I’m not worried about that. I therefore assume that they will only make offers like this if vehicle safety allows it, ”says Harald Proff, partner and car expert at Deloitte management consultancy, to

Proff continues: “Even after years of further development, software must continue to be protected by updates.” For this purpose, encapsulations and security solutions are developed and put through their paces with the help of so-called penetration tests. Proff is certain that cyber security will remain “an essential task”. Proff: “The issue of safety is a factor with which automobile manufacturers can and must differentiate themselves from tech companies.”

So it seems as if the market mainly regulates how safe a self-driving car is – even if it meets certain criteria. “The Tüv checks whether the legal standards are met. How the car’s safety scores in comparison is determined by the competition with other cars, ”says TÜV department head Schäffler.

And development is progressing rapidly. “I’m assuming that significant steps will be taken towards level four in the next five years,” says Peter Fuß, senior consultant at the management consultancy EY, to Level four is the penultimate level for fully automated driving. In this stage the driver becomes a passenger. He can play, listen to music loudly, sleep or watch the car drive and hand all responsibility over to his car – and thus to the manufacturer.


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