In recent news, trucks, lorries and vans have been the weapon used in terror attacks around the globe, and other sources suggest that autonomous vehicles, particularly self-driving trucks and lorries, could be a reality sooner than we think. It poses the question: How can we prevent autonomous vehicles from being used as weapons in terror attacks?

Accessories for terror attacks

We already have ‘self-driving’ technologies in the cars which are on our roads today, from 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.

As reported by The Guardian, law-makers have warned that autonomous vehicles must have secure and safe technology to prevent use as an accessory in terror attacks in the future. VW dealership, Vindis, investigate further.

Developments in self-driving technology

In-car technology is constantly developing to make the driver’s life easier and enhance the driving experience. 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.

Horrendous terror attacks have taken place around the globe, using trucks and lorries as the main weapon
We may not be far from seeing fully-autonomous vehicles on our roads

But what needs to happen next? 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.

As lorries and trucks are forecast to be some of the first fully-autonomous vehicles to be rolled out onto the roads, 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.

Cybertechnology aims to make it incredibly hard to hijack a vehicle, to prevent terrorists from using autonomous technology as an accessory

Risks of autonomous-vehicle terror attacks

Everyone is aware of the horrendous terror attacks that have taken place recently around the globe, using trucks and lorries as the main weapon. Trucks are chosen for their size and anonymity, and have been used to drive into crowded pedestrian areas at high speeds, causing 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. 

If autonomous trucks are to pose a real threat, we need to have a prevention. 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.

In recent attacks, hire vehicles have been the weapon used to cause mass disaster. 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.

 Law-makers have warned that autonomous vehicles must have secure and safe technology
Trucks are chosen for their size and anonymity, and can cause devastating results in crowded pedestrian areas

Educating drivers on preventative measures

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 educate 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.

Further prevention development is expected 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 the use of satellites. The system would automatically connect with the vehicle and retain control, so that the vehicle only travels at a safe speed within the area.

As lorries and vans continue to be used as terror weapons, perhaps it is time to implement some of the prevention strategies sooner rather than later.

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