UK Coast
February 6, 2018

Will autonomous vehicles be terror threats?

Autonomous technology is nothing new to the automotive industry – drivers are already familiar with a selection of self-driving technology in most modern-day vehicles, from lane departure warning systems to cruise control and active park assist. But just how far are we from introducing fully autonomous vehicles onto our roads? As Google tests its own self-drive vehicles, clocking more than 200,000 miles in a fleet of self-driving cars retrofitted with sensors, it seems we are not far from seeing fully autonomous vehicles on our roads at all.

But are there risks that we should be aware of? Lorries and vans have been used as an accessory in many recent terror attacks across the globe, which is why law makers have raised concern and warned that autonomous vehicles must have secure and safe technology to prevent their use as an accessory in terror attacks in the future.

How far away are fully autonomous vehicles?

With many modern-day vehicles already operating with autonomous technology, drivers are progressively trusting their vehicles to carry out tasks which previously would always need to be done manually. We already have systems which keep us in our lanes on dual carriageways and motorways, systems that can parallel park our vehicles for us, and software that automatically maintains a safe, steady speed on the UK’s roads – with some even advanced enough with automated braking systems when tracking the vehicle in front. Self-driving technology is revolutionising the driving experience.

The question is: what needs to be done next to roll out fully autonomous vehicles? Manufacturers need to converge sensor-based technologies and connected-vehicle communications, so that they can deliver safer self-driving techniques than what each approach could ever deliver on its own.

If forecasts are to be believed, lorries and trucks will be amongst the first autonomous vehicles on the roads. This also sparks concern for many drivers in the industry. Low-end estimates suggest that over 1.7 million truckers could be replaced by self-driving counterparts – which could rise to as high at 3 million, ridding trucks of their manual drivers. But with drivers not needed, could this be a lethal opportunity for terrorists? VW dealership, Vindis, investigate further:

The rise in truck attacks

In recent years, the level of terror attacks carried out with the accessory of a lorry or truck has risen significantly. Truck attacks have now become a global threat. Trucks are chosen for their size and anonymity, and have been used to drive into crowded pedestrian areas at high speeds and cause devastating results. It’s predicted that these vehicles will be amongst the first fully autonomous vehicles on our roads, and officials worry they could play a crucial role in mitigating their use as rolling weapons.

Preventing future attacks

Now that the concern has been risen in advance of the technology rolling out globally, we have time to place the necessary precautions in place. So far, legislation has been passed to say that all autonomous vehicle will be armed with cybersecurity technology so that they can’t be used as an accessory in a terror attack. The cybertechnology aims to make it incredibly hard, if not impossible, to hack the vehicle for hijack meaning potential terrorists can’t use autonomous technology as an accessory in an attack.

In recent attacks, hire vehicles have been the weapon used to cause mass disaster – and as a result, hire and rental vehicle companies can expect to see regulations and restrictions tightened as a precaution. It has been suggested that companies should have access to a wider database that reveals more sensitive information in the future so that companies are aware of individuals that are suspect. Whilst databases currently check against identity, credit and insurance, the threat of terrorism may lead to a more detailed and sensitive database.

Fleet Source has developed the UK’s first Terrorism Risk and Incident Prevention suite of products and training to support fleet operators. Referred to as ‘TRIP’, its aim is to reduce the risks of commercial vehicles being used as a weapon in terror attacks. The products and services serve to educated fleet operators, managers and drivers of the risks of terrorism, the nature of the threats and safety precautions that can be implemented to reduce the possibilities of their vehicle being hijacked, stolen or used in a terrorist incident.

Furthermore, the government are actively developing more methods to reduce the risk of terrorism. They hope to develop geo-fencing systems to prevent unauthorised vehicles from entering particular areas of a city – the system will slow down vehicles and control the speed as soon as they enter the sensitive area through satellites. The system would automatically connect with the vehicle and retain control so that the vehicle only travels at a safe sped within the area.

With lorries and vans actively being used as terror weapons, it is beneficial that concerns have been raised in advance so that the necessary precautions can be put in place before the threat becomes a reality.