It seems like the autonomous car has been approaching for years now with constant speculation as to what the self-driving car will look like and how it will behave. With automakers committed to a ‘driverless’ future it seems like the age of autonomy is finally here.
That is, the technology is capable, however, people and drivers still have a long way to go when it comes to entrusting their safety and ceding control to a driverless car. Many car makers have nailed their colours to the mast in respect of autonomous driving and there are today many cars that already contain a large amount of self-driving technology.
Swedish car manufacturer Volvo currently offers a semi-autonomous functionality called Pilot Assist on its 90 series cars. Pilot Assist gives gentle steering inputs to keep the car properly aligned within lane markings up to 130 km/h without the need to follow another car.
There are many other manufacturers who are looking to integrate the kind of intelligent driving capability into their cars but Volvo as a leader in automotive safety can lay claim to one of the most advanced programmes of this kind.
This summer Volvo launched ambitious and wide-reaching testing programmes for their AD cars in the Drive Me programme successfully carried out in Gothenburg and London. They are also in the process of setting up a programme with a number of cities in China. These programmes are designed to collect valuable information in a real world environment in what is virgin testing ground.
The automaker has also signed up with Autoliv Inc a worldwide leader in automotive safety systems, to set up a new jointly-owned company to develop next generation autonomous driving software.
Those in favour of AD cars predict that the self-driving car can impact on our roads in four positive ways: – safety, congestion, pollution and time saving.
Independent research has revealed that AD has the potential to reduce the number of car accidents significantly, in some cases by up to 30 per cent. Up to 90 per cent of all accidents are presently caused by driver error or distraction, something that could be reduced greatly with AD cars.
“Vehicle manufacturers are predicting that highly autonomous vehicles, capable of allowing the driver to drop ‘out of the loop’ for certain sections of their journey, will be available from around 2021. Without doubt, crash frequency will also dramatically reduce. We’ve already seen this with the adoption of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) on many new cars. Research in the US by NHTSA predicts that by 2035, as a result of autonomous and connected cars, crashes will be reduced by 80%. Additionally, if a crash unfortunately can’t be avoided, then the impact speed will also drop as a result of the system’s performance – reducing the severity of the crash,” said Peter Shaw, chief executive at Thatcham Research.
In terms of congestion, AD cars allow traffic to move more smoothly, reducing traffic jams and by extension cutting dangerous emissions and associated pollution. Lastly, reduced congestion saves drivers valuable time.
While companies like Volvo are more than ready to start testing on our roads, in many cases legislation and regulations are not up to speed with the advancing tech. Many governments are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to how they will deal with the coming wave of AD cars and that is probably not good enough.
The AD car is coming, that much we know for sure, but are Irish roads ready for them? The law in Ireland currently takes no provision for the presence of AD cars on Irish roads. The area is apparently covered in most countries by the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968. It was signed by 72 countries in ’68 but not all have ratified it. The Convention covers a wide range of subjects including vehicle registration display and signage. However, in respect to AD cars, Article 8 VC stipulates the requirement that a vehicle must have a driver, while Article 13 states that a driver must be in control of his or her vehicle in all circumstances.
The USA and China are the two most notable non-signatories and both are forging ahead with their own adaptive strategy to the advent of autonomous driving car technology on their roads.
While this looks set to change in the near future, the fact that Ireland never signed up to the agreement in the first place means it won’t affect autonomous driving in Ireland. Ireland has no evident plan to deal with AD cars when they arrive. It will most likely depend on consumer demand to tip the legislative bodies in to action.
The other major factor affecting AD cars here is the insurance industry and whether they embrace mass adoption of the tech. Significantly safer roads would make for lower premiums and a cleaner and more stable operating environment for them. The insurance industry could well hold enough sway to influence legislation in favour of AD cars in Ireland.
Ireland is not the only country with a piecemeal attitude to paving the legislative way for AD cars. The UK is in a very similar position.
“The US risks losing its leading position due to the lack of Federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles,” explains Mr. Samuelsson.
Technology advances at a very fast rate and if there is a far reaching benefit for having AD cars on the roads then it is best that all invested parties work together on the issue.
Mr Samuelsson will welcome moves by regulators and car makers in the US and Europe to develop AD cars and infrastructure, but he will also encourage all the parties involved to work more constructively together to avoid patchwork global regulations, technological duplication and needless expense.
“AD is not just about car technology. We need the right rules and the right laws,” says Samuelsson.
“It is natural for us to work together. Our starting point is that both the public and private sectors stand to benefit from new technologies and industries, so it is better to build bridges and work together than to all go in different directions.”
“There are multiple benefits to AD cars,” continues Samuelsson. “That is why governments need to put in place the legislation to allow AD cars onto the streets as soon as possible. The car industry cannot do it all by itself. We need governmental help.”