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Car-makers to go slow on automation
Legal, publicity fears likely to delay introduction of fully automated vehicles
22 May 2015
By IAN PORTER
GLOBAL car-makers will be reluctant to release a fully autonomous vehicle unless they receive legislative protection from governments, a leading software specialist has claimed.
In a Level 3 autonomous car, the driver can cede all the critical safety functions – steering, brakes, throttle – to the car and take their eyes off the road for protracted periods. A number of car-makers already offer Level 1 and Level 2 automated vehicles that offer up to two automated functions.
Speaking at the Australian Intelligent Transport Systems Summit in Melbourne last week, software developer Ygomi's chairman Russell Shields said governments will have to offer car-makers some sort of legal protection before Level 3 cars will be sold.
He said it was likely the first automated vehicles on the roads would be semi-trailers on the interstate highways, where they would employ limited autonomy steering in a straight line for hours on end.
“The issue we are struggling with is when we get to cities and we get a headline that says 'Machine Kills Man'. That’s not a very good thing to have,” he said.
Mr Shields said that no matter how good the technology is, accidents will still occur.
“It’s impossible. There is no way that you can handle the guy at 10 o’clock at night who walks out of the pub and stumbles in front of the car,” he said.
Mr Shields believes governments will need to recognise the benefits that autonomous cars and intelligent transport systems will bring and offer car-makers some legal shelter while the public is educated about the safety and efficiency advancements.
Mr Shields used the example of early airbag technology that caused a number of deaths, but highlighted how the only way car-makers continued to improve airbags was because the US Government mandated their fitting.
“Even though there were net savings – many more were saved than were killed – the only way we could get air bags adopted was the regulation to put the airbags in because no car company would dare to put it in voluntarily if they were going to get sued.
“It was regulations that got the initial airbags in and we ended up basically with a safe harbor that said if you put an airbag in and it worked like this, in line with the regulation, you’re OK.”
Mr Shields also believes that car-makers and the police should have access to the data from any car involved in a crash.
“In addition to protecting themselves against the problem of malfunctioning software, the car-makers will want the police to have access to the vehicle data, again as a form of protection.
“Car companies, and they have to be careful that they don’t get killed by the privacy advocates, but absolutely they want the police to get the information so that it can be reliably determined what happened.
Left: Ygomi chairman Russell Shields.
“And they want a copy of the information so that, if they actually do have a problem, they can fix it.”
According to Mr Shields, while crashes or deaths asscoiated with autonomous cars would be bad, it would be worse if a lack of access to the data meant that a problem was not fixed in a timely manner.
“From a liability standpoint yes, if once in a while we have an accident and hit something, that’s unfortunate. If we keep having the same accident, then we have big problems.
“The claims increase, the publicity is bad, all kinds of things.
Giving the police access to the information will allow the facts to be established accurately and will hopefully avoid misleading headlines and public backlash, he said.
“The car-makers will be able to counter headlines in the newspapers that say 'Ten accidents caused by automated cars'. Instead the headlines will say 'Ten people injured when they walked out in front of automated cars'.”
Mr Shields said there were some reasons why governments would consider giving car-makers a legal safe harbor by mandating or otherwise permitting the use of automated vehicles.
“If you look at hospital and medical costs today, a significant percentage of medical costs the government pays for are caused by vehicle accidents.
“You walk around and see people in wheelchairs and there are a few of them with terrible diseases, but almost all the others had a vehicle accident. It’s a big issue.”
Mr Shields said a study by the US department of transport had estimated that ITS and automated cars could eliminate or influence around 81 per cent of all road accidents where the driver is unimpaired.
“There’s direct savings right there for the government health bill before you get into all the other losses of destroyed property, mucked up roads and delays.”“That’s a major benefit because road accidents do cost the state governments a lot of money.”
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