autonomous vehicles, car crashes, Collisions, Crashes and Collisions, Distracted Driving, driverless technology, Driverless Vehicles, NHTSA, Road Safety Research, Self-Driving Cars, Technology, traffic fatalities, Traffic Safety

Defining safe behavior standards for autonomous vehicles

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The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, in an average month, more than 150,000 people a month will be killed in traffic accidents around the world.  Around 90% of crashes are caused by human error – so will driverless cars reduce the number of incidences that lead to too many fatalities on the road?

In 2015, Nevada led the way in passing legislation regarding self-driving cars at the state level. Since then, several other states including California, Hawaii, Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma have proposed similar legislation to set standards for regulating self-driving cars. The problem with passing laws that regulate safety standards for autonomous vehicles (AVs) lies in not having a consistent standard defining “safe driving” in terms of how an AV can understand robotic rules of the road – every company that has forayed into the field is writing their standards in a different way. That is why some in the industry think the time has come to devise a standardized set of rules for how AVs should behave in different situations.

A team of researchers at Mobileye, a provider of AV technology, published a paper on a framework, “Responsibility-Sensitive Safety”, that outlines mathematical rules for various activities performed by AVs – lane-changing, pulling out into traffic and driving cautiously when pedestrians or other vehicles are partially occluded, etc. The framework covers all 37 pre-crash scenarios in the accident database maintained by National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It is hoped that this framework would be adopted as the basis of an open industry standard. A similar proposal, “Open Autonomous Safety”, was put forth by Voyage, another player in the AV field, that defines the correct, safe behavior for vehicles in a range of circumstances, including pedestrians being in the road, nearby vehicles reversing and arrival at a four-way stop. In addition, Voyage has made its internal safety procedures, materials and test code all open source, with the aim of providing a foundational safety resource in the industry.

Dr. Bryant Walker Smith, assistant professor in the School of Law and School of Engineering at the University of South Carolina, was interviewed about how self-driving cars can change the way people travel.

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Professor Smith welcomes the proposals from Mobileye and Voyage, but warns that it is too soon for regulators to “calcify dynamic conversations that are fundamentally technical in nature”. Researcher predict it will take years rather than months for the industry to cohere around a standard, but are optimistic it will eventually happen because discussions are already under way and because many people working in the field of autonomous vehicles are recent recruits from academia, who consider sharing and open-sourcing to be second nature.

 

Driverless Vehicles, Legislative Affairs

Treating driverless vehicles just like any other – a recipe for disaster?

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We have been advocates of sharing the road with everyone, and now Colorado is getting ready to ask their drivers to share the road with cars that drive themselves, too.  The future of driverless cars is here today – have you seen the commercials for cars that can park themselves? In March, the Colorado State Senate passed a bill that would change state law to allow the use of an “automated driving system” — one that doesn’t need human control or supervision. Senate Bill 213 states “the vehicle’s system must be capable of complying with every state and federal law that is applicable to the vehicle and its use. Problem is, there are currently no federal laws or regulations governing driverless vehicles that companies seeking to test or use such cars or trucks could comply with in order to follow the proposed law in Colorado, although the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has put out guidelines for states to use in setting policy.

There are currently more than 30 companies working on autonomous vehicle technologies, dedicating thousands of miles and thousands of hours in testing their driverless vehicles. But what about the average drivers in the U.S. – will the technology be widely accepted? Not according to a study at the University of Michigan built on a series of eight reports addressing public opinion, human factors, and safety-related issues concerning self-driving vehicles. The study, sponsored by UM’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), found that nearly 46% percent of those surveyed want no vehicle automation at all, while 39% percent favor partial automation. Only about 15% percent want fully driverless vehicles. Many cited the lack of control as a problematic issue.

What about trucks? In a similar report, researchers found that nearly 95 percent of U.S. motorists responding to their survey had some level of concern sharing the roads with autonomous trucks and trailers. According to the Teamsters, the labor union known as the champion of freight drivers, letting driverless vehicles, especially trucks, hit the highways is a recipe for disaster.

The last thing those traveling U.S. thoroughfares need are out-of-control trucks that jeopardize the lives of others.

Roadways are already a hazard for motorists. “As it stands, the nation’s roadways can be a dangerous place for motorists,” stated in a Teamster article on a poll showing worries about a driverless future on our highways and byways. While technology progresses, there must be a balance between the application of the next big development in our everyday lives and sound public policy that ensures the public good.