Instructor: UK AV Operator Training Legislation Needed

An autonomous vehicle operator training provider says UK government legislation and/or clearer guidance on the qualifications and experience required for the job is needed.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with TU-Automotive, Colin Hoad, chief instructor at CAT Driver Training, a company with a background in providing advanced driver training for automotive engineers that is now training the human back-up drivers for AVs, said he felt the current UK government guidelines on the skills back-up drivers will need are insufficiently clear. He said “ignorant” operators could potentially take advantage of this ambiguity.

Hoad also said in many cases, prospective AV back-up drivers would need to learn to act counter-reflexively when confronted with hazards, and an automotive engineering background would prove helpful to those seeking to enter the profession. Despite these caveats, he added that he foresaw operation of AVs becoming a growth area of the UK’s employment market.

Q: What support would you like to see the UK government give to providers of AV back-up driver training?

“If you look at the documents on gov.uk, you can see The Pathway to Driverless Cars: a Code of Practice for Testing. If we look in there, the advice is sketchy. The advice is definitely an overview guide. What I think we perhaps could see is some kind of formalized training program which is something we’re now working on and have developed and now have presented to the outside world. Companies are now using that. What I’m very interested in is the pathway of the people that are developing the systems and their knowledge of advanced and defensive driving and vehicle dynamics. So what I think could come would be a more structured approach to testing in terms of how people are trained, and some kind of itemized confirmation of what actual qualifications or driving experience or training experience people need. I think it’s a bit sketchy at the moment. It’s open to interpretation. When things are open to interpretation, we get false positives and negatives.”

“Companies can choose not to take something on board. Responsible companies with a responsibility to others and a duty of care and who recognize that duty of care will probably find their own way. Because they’ll employ the right people to do it. But I think without legislation, or some detailed guidance, I think it’s open to interpretation and probably, people through ignorance might not realize the level of health and safety training they might need to just fulfill that simple pathway and those few simple statements. I think it should be more descriptive.”

Q: What skills do you think AV back-up drivers need to be trained in?

“If they’re not trained as defensive, advanced, dynamic drivers, then you can imagine somebody who’s had no post-test driver training is very unlikely to have an advanced or heightened level of driving skill or awareness.”

“You have people within that environment that are highly skilled, highly intelligent, very, very clever algorithm writers, but may not have any interest in the motor vehicle or driving. Their passion is what they do. If that person is now to become a safety driver or a safety operator working within the vehicle, then my thoughts just instantly go to ‘well how is that person going to be able to forward plan, observe the road, drive with advanced and defensive skills, manage those around them to the point that they can perhaps influence how people drive around them? How can they do that and then manage a system where you might get actuated failure?’ The systems, as we know, are very juvenile. They often trip out and then trip back in, so safety drivers have to take control. How can people do that effectively if they’ve not been trained in the areas I’m suggesting?”

“I come with an industry spin on how I’ve been taught as a trainer and how I’ve developed my own skills. What you would see, if you were to drive with somebody on a proving ground or on a public highway, is how in a moment of stress, our fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in. Even if you’ve got reasonable skills and a degree of muscle memory to carry out a certain task in a prescribed way and know how to control over-steer or under-steer or react to a problem, your fight-or-flight mechanism might suggest you do something else that isn’t safe and relevant to the task at hand. You need to teach people how, under moments of duress, we need to be able to understand our own inputs, reflect on what we’re doing, and have a real-time understanding of what we’re doing, rather than just relying on instinct.”

Q: Do you think an automotive engineering background would prove useful to AV back-up drivers?

“Definitely. Training people to have good working practices that are repeatable, muscle-memoried, and reliable takes a lot of commitment from the individual being trained and time and money from the person who’s paying for it. So if AV testing is now becoming ‘mainstream’, if you could find a safety driver who had been in the industry for some period of time and been trained to a high standard, you’d perhaps have to spend a couple of days with them to ensure they were at your standard. That’s a very different prospect to training somebody for four to ten days to be able to do what you require. Perhaps only limited auto-engineering knowledge would suffice, but some knowledge would definitely be helpful, yes.”

Q: Do you foresee AV back-up driving becoming a growth area of the UK job market?

“I do, based on the level of interest from the motor industry to fund and carry out the development of AVs and their systems. The government are backing it, they’re putting pretty substantial funds up for people to win competitions and develop their systems with government backing. I believe it’s gathered serious momentum in the last three to four years and I think it’ll continue to do so, yes.”

 


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