In January 2018, the Canadian Senate issued a 70 page report titled “Driving Change – Technology and the Future of the Automated Vehicle”. The study examined whether or not Canada is ready for driverless vehicles on our roads. Their conclusion is that we are not ready. There are many issues we need to be concerned about.
We’ll provide a brief overview of the study within. If you want to read the full report, it’s available for download at the Government of Canada website here.
Driverless vehicles could impact 1.1 million employees
The Senate study focuses on the upcoming regulatory and technical issues related to driverless and connected vehicles. The Senate Committee heard from over 78 expert witnesses from across North America and collected written submissions from various sectors. The conclusion; they felt driverless vehicles could affect personal vehicle ownership and would also have an impact on the trucking sector. Driverless technology also raises concerns in relation to job losses, personal privacy, cyber-security, urban sprawl, and public infrastructure requirements.
The Senate study states that the economic advantages derived from autonomous vehicles could reach $65 billion a year. This is due to collision avoidance, increased productivity, fuel savings, mobility assistance, and congestion avoidance. That’s the upside.
The downside; thousands of jobs could be lost. Threatened sectors could be the taxi, transportation and parking industries which employ over 1.1 million people. Other concerns relate to cyber-terrorists who could take control of vehicles and how will data collected from these cars be used by businesses (and hackers).
Automated or connected? Which is it?
Let’s clarify the difference between “connected” and “automated” vehicles.
CONNECTED vehicles consist of two types. There is (i) simple connectivity where a vehicle is connected to the internet, or (ii) there is a connection of vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure.
AUTOMATED vehicles make use of sensors and computer software to track the surroundings and undertake some driving activities. There are different levels of automation. These can range from simple driver assisted steering and braking to fully automated self-driving cars where passengers are oblivious to the road. Low levels of automation and connectivity are already available to the Canadian public with driver assistance systems like adaptive cruise control and automated parking.
There are five levels of automation;
Level 0 – No Automation.
A person controls all aspects of driving.
Level 1 – Driver Assistance
The computer system helps a driver with only steering or braking and accelerating.
Level 2 – Partial Driving Automation
The computer controls both steering and braking/accelerating in some circumstances. The driver must pay full attention to the road since they are still in control of the vehicle.
Level 3 – Conditional Driving Automation
The computer performs all aspects of driving under certain conditions. The driver is expected to respond and take control in some situations.
Level 4 – High Driving Automation
The computer performs all driving tasks and monitors the environment in certain situations, whereby the driver does not need to pay attention to the road.
Level 5 – Full Driving Automation
The car drives itself in all circumstances. The occupants are simply passengers.
Automated vehicles currently available are mainly restricted to Levels 1 and 2. There is discussion about technology skipping over Level 3 due to concerns about a person’s reaction time in response to an impromptu request from the computer to take over driving control. The ultimate goal is to achieve full Level 5 automation.
Who will be first?
It is generally agreed that automated vehicles might first see application in fleets like taxis, buses or delivery vehicles. They might also be best suited in closed environments like a university campus or a business park.
The environment of a vehicle going at 100 kph changes every three seconds. This will require software and mechanical systems that have very rapid response times in poor weather, heavy traffic, and varying road conditions. There is an infinite number of driving scenarios that can’t be predicted ahead of time.
The adoption of automated cars replacing older vehicles will take time. On average, Canadian cars are about 10 years old. Not everyone will, or can, immediately buy a new automated car. Perhaps only the more affluent will afford to do this.
We see how quickly cell phone, computer, and laptop technology advances. Will automated car sensors and software be advancing just as fast? Will people be able to afford to keep up? This is a car we’re talking about, not a cell phone.
Predicting the driving impact is difficult
No one can predict how road behavior and traffic will be impacted. The potential is there for empty vehicles returning home or going to pick up others might create a new type of traffic called “zero occupancy vehicles”.
Other impacts can be both increased urban sprawl and increased urban densification. Urban densification results from more land being used for housing that is no longer required for parking. Urban sprawl results from people tolerating longer commutes if they can work or sleep during their trip.
Automated vehicles might ultimately increase total vehicle travel, require dedicated lanes, and increase greenhouse gas emissions. If the vehicles have a short technological shelf life, we just may be creating more waste and scrap in an already “disposable” world.
Seniors and passengers with disabilities might require personal assistance to enter, exit, or transact payment. Driverless taxis would not provide this.
Data collected by the autonomous systems can create individual user profiles and be used for target marketing. There will be massive amounts of data collected and some people may have hopes of monetizing it. This same data can also be used for nefarious purposes by hackers.
Dramatic impact on employment sectors
With the onset of automated vehicles, job losses will occur. Some employment categories that could potentially be affected are;
- Truck and courier service drivers
- Taxi, bus and snow plow drivers
- Traffic police, traffic wardens
- Driving instructors
- Tow truck drivers, auto body repair mechanics
- Health care workers, lawyers (due to a reduction in collisions)
- Auto insurance agents, salespeople
- Parking attendants
- Gas station employees
The trucking industry even has concerns about pension plan contributions. With fewer drivers making contributions, those very plans could falter due to lack of funding.
Where does Canada go from here?
There are numerous issues related to the use of driverless cars and unintended and unpredictable consequences. Because of this, the Senate Committee study provided 16 recommendations in the report to facilitate the introduction of autonomous vehicles. Read it and you’ll realize that technology aside, actual implementation is fraught with social issues.
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