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WP.29 & automated driving

04 December 2014

Given the levels of public interest in autonomous vehicles and the advent of automated driving technologies, such as park-assist and lane-keeping assistance, safety regulators are keen to get their arms around the scope and future of these systems while providing clarity to manufacturers on regulatory expectations. Moreover, the far-reaching implications of automated driving underpin a desire to develop global perspectives to facilitate the establishment of harmonized standards for use worldwide.

The WP.29 Intelligent Transport Systems working group has scheduled a first session under its new mandate as the “ITS/Automated Driving Informal Working Group” to begin work on building a regulatory structure for automated driving technologies and to provide guidance on adapting current regulations to address these new capabilities. The group will hold an initial telephone conference on 19 December, starting at 13h00 GMT, with stakeholders from around the world.

One part of the agenda focuses on a review of the new SAE Standard J3016 and similar frameworks such as developed by NHTSA, BASt, and others that describe the different levels of automation from totally driver-controlled to fully autonomous.

While these frameworks are useful in establishing a common language for describing automated functions, the regulators will need to transform such descriptive frameworks into prescriptive ones that specify requirements that ensure the safe automation of particular driver tasks. In other words, the automation of particular tasks or maneuvers will involve decisions on the degree to which the driver can be expected to intervene if necessary.

Certain tasks, even something as seemingly mundane as parking, may need to be highly automated from a regulatory standpoint because the driver cannot reasonably be expected to respond quickly enough to an unexpected danger. Indeed, a number of observers have noted that the most difficult challenges will lie in “Level 3” conditional systems where the driver would be called upon to resume control of the vehicle under certain circumstances.

The ITS/AD group is considering creating a special group to focus particularly on “highly automated driving” (HAD) systems that are considered a necessary step before reaching widespread use of fully autonomous vehicles.

The potential of automated driving technologies to significantly improve road safety combined with the fundamental impact of autonomous driving on all facets of road transportation places the global regulatory community in a cautiously enthusiastic mode.

Driver error has long been considered the primary factor in most traffic accidents. The prospect of reliable systems capable of taking over safety-critical driver functions offers an entirely new set of horizons for the reduction of death and injury to complement (and who knows, perhaps one day replace) the traditional focus on vehicle handling and crashworthiness. Consequently, safety regulators want to facilitate their deployment.

At the same time, automated driving technologies represent a paradigm shift in road transportation, undermining the fundamental notion that the driver is always in control of the vehicle. This shift presents a daunting array of questions and challenges. How should registration plates be designed so law enforcement officers know who can text (or read a newspaper) while driving and who cannot? How can control of the vehicle safely pass between the automated system and the driver? What levels of automation (i.e., balance between driver and system responsibilities) will be needed for specific functions like parking or platooning? How do you ensure system integrity, including protection against electromagnetic or other interference, possible corruption during software updates, conflicts among software packages, or the vehicle equivalent of the personal computer’s “blue screen of death” system failure? How do you ensure full protection against hackers or safeguard exchanges of data, especially when vehicles spend a decade or more on the road before being scrapped?

The fact is that motor vehicles do not operate in a highly controlled and relatively uncongested space like aircraft do. Neither are drivers necessarily highly trained professionals like pilots are. Aircraft are routinely grounded when weather conditions do not permit their safe use where vehicles are expected to be available 24/7, 365 days per year.

Safety regulators and automotive manufacturers are well aware that motor vehicles operate in highly unpredictable and harsh environments. They are equally aware that advances in safety lead many drivers to take greater risks. A likely outcome of higher automation will be lower driver vigilance.

So, as they have done for more than fifty years, the regulators, manufacturers, safety advocates, and other stakeholders in WP.29 are taking on the challenge to ensure that advances in technology result in safer roads.

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