• Are we in danger of self-driving vehicles being used in terrorist attacks?

    960 640 Stuart O'Brien

    In terrorist-related travesties around the world, lorries, cars, and vans have often been at the centre of the disaster. Vehicles have been used on many occasions to inflict fear and cause chaos, leaving us to ask the question: how can we prevent the use of autonomous vehicles for terror attacks?

    Various ‘self-driving’ technologies are already on the market today. Such as lane departure warning systems, 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.

    Recently, The Guardian reported that autonomous vehicles were becoming a concern for law makers. Therefore, they must have secure and safe technology to prevent use as an accessory in terror attacks in the future. Skoda servicing specialists, Vindis, investigate further…

    How has self-driving technology developed?

    Soon enough the job of the driver will be a lot easier — largely assisted by new technology. Developments with semi-autonomous technology suggest that we are significantly close to rolling out fully autonomous vehicles. Many 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. 

    So, what’s next for self-driving technology? For 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. 

    It is predicted that some of the first self-driving machines to roll out onto the road will likely be lorries and trucks. Therefore, there are many jobs that could be at risk if the need for human driving is eliminated. 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. 

    What is the risk?

    We’ve all seen horrific news stories that show how trucks and lorries can be used in terrorist attacks. 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. 

    How can we prevent it?

    If there’s a real threat, we need to take preventative measures. Thankfully, 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. 

    Hire vehicles have been used multiple times to inflict terror. Further regulations and restrictions will also be put in place with hire and rental companies. 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. 

    So, what measures do we already have in place? TRIP is the UK’s first Terrorism Risk and Incident Prevention suite of products and training to support fleet operators that has been developed by a leading provider or training and auditing services for the road transport industry, Fleet Source. 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. 

    Over the coming years, there are set to be many more developments to prevent terrorist action using self-driving vehicles. Further prevention development is excepted from the government who 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. 

    Evidently, these measures need to be implemented soon, before self-driving vehicles become commonplace on our roads. 






    Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien