January 13, 2017

The Road to Autonomous Vehicles

There’s been a lot of chatter the past while about autonomous vehicles.  It may seem that this version of the future is just around the corner.  But despite the various test projects currently underway, the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that we still have quite a long way to go before self-driving cars, with the promise of a dramatic reduction or even elimination of vehicle crashes, become the mainstream.

In September, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued its first policy guidelines for autonomous vehicles, adopting SAE International’s definitions for levels of automation set out in their new standard J3016.  The levels range from no automation (Level 0) to fully automated, self-driving vehicles (Level 5).  Currently, only Level 2 automation is available to consumers.  Vehicles with Level 2 automation conduct some parts of the driving task, such as speed and lane keeping, while the driver performs the rest.  At Level 2, the driver must still be fully engaged in the driving task.  The difference between Levels 0-2 and 3-5 is based on whether the human driver or the automated system is primarily responsible for monitoring the driving environment.  Predictions of when personal use semi-automated to fully automated vehicles (Levels 3-5) will be available range from the early 2020s to the 2030s.  The IIHS says that there will be a mixed fleet of autonomous and conventional vehicles for decades.

With reports of fatal accidents being on the rise for the first time in years, the IIHS recommends that in the meantime people remember the basics of safe driving such as wearing seatbelts, never driving impaired, and obeying speed limits.  And the importance of paying attention to the road rather than your smart phone can’t be emphasized enough.

IIHS: Status Report Special Issue, Vol. 51, No. 8 – Autonomous Vehicles

DOT: Federal Automated Vehicles Policy

NHTSA: Vehicle to Vehicle Communications, Vehicle Cybersecurity, Automated Vehicles

SAE International: Press Release re: DOT and SAE J3016