Driverless vehicles, otherwise known as autonomous, automated or self-driving cars, are no longer science fiction. Several companies around the world are testing both driverless and so-called “connected” vehicles. Canadian consumers can currently access vehicles with low levels of automation and connectivity.
On 20 September 2016, the United States Department of Transportation unveiled guidelines for the safe testing and deployment of driverless vehicles. A 15-point safety and performance checklist sets clear expectations for manufacturers.
On 1 January 2016, the Ontario government launched a 10-year pilot project allowing driverless vehicles to be tested on the province’s roads.
This HillNote examines some of the ramifications of this new industry.
Driverless and connected vehicles: Distinct but complementary technologies
Driverless vehicles and connected vehicles share some of the same technology; a vehicle can be both driverless and connected. The two terms are not synonymous, however.
Connected vehicles use wireless technology to communicate with other vehicles, known as vehicle to vehicle, or V2V. Or they communicate with transportation infrastructure, known as vehicle to infrastructure, or V2I, or with smart phones to give drivers information to help them navigate more safely. Figure 1 illustrates these technologies.
Figure 1: Connected Vehicles
The term “connected vehicle” can also be used more generally to describe vehicles with various telecommunications capabilities, such as global positioning system (GPS) navigation and remote software updates.
Driverless vehicles use sensors, such as radar and cameras, and computer analytics to sense their surroundings and drive without human input. Figure 2 illustrates this technology.
Figure 2: Automated (driverless) vehicles
Connectivity is not necessary to operate a driverless vehicle from one moment to the next. But connected technology can be either useful or essential to self-driving vehicles for certain purposes, such as downloading the latest versions of software.
Still some years away
However, other estimates suggest that fully driverless vehicles will become common and affordable during the 2040s to 2060s period.
In the case of connected vehicles, V2V technologies have been tested in pilot projects; they are expected to be available within two years.
V2I technologies are expected to be deployed over a longer, 20-year period, as existing infrastructure is replaced or upgraded.
Improved safety and other significant benefits
A 2015 Conference Board of Canada report identified a number of benefits of driverless vehicles.
The report noted that driverless vehicles will likely eliminate collisions involving human error. They might also provide accessible transportation for people who are unable to drive.
In addition, the Board said driverless vehicles:
- may promote a trend towards the use of vehicles on a short-term rental basis (through on-demand driverless taxis) as an alternative to vehicle ownership;
- could reduce the need for public transit projects;
- may reduce the need for parking space, freeing up land for other uses such as green space;
- complement the use of electric vehicles, which have environmental benefits as they produce fewer emissions; and
- tend to be more energy efficient than regular vehicles, especially when combined with connected technology.
The report estimated that the annual economic benefit of driverless vehicles to Canada could reach $65 billion in 2013 dollars.
As for connected vehicles, they are expected to help drivers avoid collisions, navigate roads more efficiently and reduce fuel consumption.
Driverless and connected vehicles create policy questions for all jurisdictions
The deployment of driverless and connected vehicles raises a number of challenges for Canadian policy makers in all three levels of government. These include questions related to:
- Regulation: few regulations and standards exist in Canada regarding the safety and use of these vehicles.
- National security and policing: these vehicles could affect existing police practices and may be used for criminal purposes.
- Infrastructure: maximizing the benefits of these vehicles could require changes to public infrastructure, which may affect decisions about new infrastructure investments.
- Public transit: the need for conventional public transit will likely remain in densely travelled areas. However, driverless taxis may compete with (or replace) public transit on low-volume routes and in small and medium-sized municipalities.
- Privacy: driverless and connected vehicles can collect vast amounts of personal data. No framework currently exists to address the ownership, use and protection of these data.
- Urban planning: these vehicles are expected to affect urban sprawl, vehicle usage, parking space and public transit, which will likely have an impact on urban design and transportation planning.
- Labour: driverless and connected vehicles are expected to both create and eliminate jobs, depending on the sector. It is unclear whether more jobs will be created than eliminated.
- Insurance: these vehicles could lower insurance costs, and enable usage-based insurance premiums. For driverless vehicles, some or all liability may be shifted to automobile manufacturers.
- Research and development: governments can play a role in the research and development of these vehicles. Some stakeholders suggest Canada needs to do more in this regard.
Jed Chong, Automated and Connected Vehicles: Status of the Technology and Key Policy Issues for Canadian Governments, Publication No. 2016-98-E, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 29 September 2016.
Kevin LaRoche and Robert Love, Autonomous Vehicles: Revolutionizing Our World, Borden Ladner Gervais, 2016.
Philippa Lawson et al, The Connected Vehicle: Who is in the Driver’s Seat?, British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, 2015.
United States Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO), Intelligent Transportation Systems: Vehicle-to-Vehicle Technologies Expected to Offer Safety Benefits, but a Variety of Deployment Challenges Exist, November 2013.
Author: Jed Chong, Library of Parliament