REGULATIONS REQUIREDREGULATIONS REQUIRED

Authorities will have to introduce strict regulations to ensure the safe introduction of autonomous vehicles on public roads. By doing so, they can also speed up the adoption, says 2getthere, the Utrecht-based company specializing in autonomous transit systems, in a whitepaper published today, named Safety in Autonomous Transit. The whitepaper says authorities should set stricter conditions regarding road safety, reliability and availability of vehicles and also for the spatial planning of public areas where autonomous vehicles operate. Stricter regulations will most likely result in a shakeout in the supply side of the autonomous transit market.

It is becoming common for autonomous vehicles to leave their testing facilities behind in favour of public roads. Unfortunately this also leads to an increase in the number of accidents. In order to guarantee passenger safety, 2getthere says governments will have to set stricter requirements for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles. More concretely, this means that a level of safety will have to be defined which manufacturers must be able to guarantee – both on paper and in practical tests in a controlled environment. Designs should be tested for road safety by independent assessors, who should also be tasked with the assessment of public areas and traffic situations in which autonomous vehicles will be operated.

The whitepaper claims that a step-by-step approach is the most logical choice to ensure the introduction of autonomous vehicles on public roads in a manner that guarantees the safety of passengers as well as the environment. 2getthere’s experts refer to examples where autonomous vehicles are already being deployed successfully in more or less controlled environments such as airports, campuses and amusement parks. The company says the first step is to introduce autonomous vehicles in relatively controlled environments, where the number and complexity of possible interactions with other traffic can be limited.

A SHAKEOUT IS IMMINENTA

2getthere estimates that it will take ten years or more before autonomous vehicles will dominate the public road. There is a lot of distance to cover from ‘successful demonstration’ to ‘large-scale everyday mobility solution’, says Sjoerd van der Zwaan, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of 2getthere. ‘Governments must demand from manufacturers that they are able to prove their products are safe – and they must set concrete requirements regarding reliability, availability and safety. This includes tasking the assessment of products and their application to independent bodies, such as the RDW (Netherlands Vehicle Authority) in the Netherlands. Manufacturers may see this as a challenge, but it’s a necessary step, considering the responsibility they carry in the transportation of people and the introduction of autonomous vehicles in the public area. It’s the only way to prevent unnecessary incidents.’

A call for stricter regulations will most likely result in a shakeout in the supply side of the market, says 2getthere’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) Robbert Lohmann: ‘In this whitepaper we conclude that the industry is a long way away from making autonomous vehicles that are as safe in mixed traffic as, for instance, city buses with professional drivers. We believe it remains to be seen if all manufacturers currently in the market have the commitment for the long haul, or the knowledge and expertise to take the necessary steps.’

PRAGMATIC APPROACH

Lohmann believes the same applies to the demand side. He says: ‘Stricter requirements will increase the cost of the introduction of autonomous vehicles. Higher cost levels will cause municipal governments to shift their focus from yet more demonstrations to permanent and commercially viable solutions. In the short term, this may seem to slow down the market introduction, but in fact it will speed up the actual utilization of autonomous vehicles. For this reason, we suggest taking a pragmatic approach, in which autonomous vehicles are first introduced in semi-controlled environments before we take the step of deploying them in fully uncontrolled environments.’

He continues: ‘We will have to build up practical experience with operational systems that carry large numbers of passengers, such as those recently made possible in the Netherlands by the introduction of new legislation that regulates fully autonomous vehicles operating in mixed traffic . If at this moment we are able to introduce autonomous vehicles in a controlled manner, this will contribute to road safety in cities.’

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