Important next step for autonomous vehicles

Important next step for autonomous vehicles

Self-driving vehicles with different levels of automation could soon be a more common sight around the world. In the EU, member states have agreed to take the steps necessary for the development of self-driving technology. And in many European countries legislation is now being prepared to speed up the development by facilitating tests on public roads.

The recent European Truck Platooning Challenge, initiated by the Netherlands as part of its EU Presidency, was the world’s first cross-border heavy vehicle convoy. Scania joined the Challenge, completing the 1,450-kilometre route from Södertälje to Rotterdam using its standard trucks with the drivers that normally drive these vehicles.

The initiative not only demonstrated the fuel reduction potential of trucks running in close convoys, or platoons, it also highlighted the important role that different support and automation systems can play in further decreasing the distance between each truck in the convoy in a safe way. This also allows it to use  the infrastructure more efficiently.

Autonomous vehicles – a way to enhance road safety

Thanks to wireless inter-vehicle communication, as well as advanced software that regulates the distance between the vehicles and simultaneously applies the brakes when necessary, Scania managed to keep the distance between the vehicles in the convoy to as close as 0.5 seconds, or 6–12 metres apart at highway speed, during the European Truck Platooning Challenge.

Many countries are now showing great interest in developing and testing systems for autonomous vehicles as a way to improve traffic flows, enhance road safety and reduce CO2 emissions. Under the recently-signed “Amsterdam Declaration”, the European Commission, EU member states and the transport industry have agreed to take the necessary steps for the development of self-driving technology in the EU as well as agreeing to draw up rules that will allow autonomous vehicles to be used on the roads.

European Truck Platooning Challenge.

Sweden is one of the countries where new legislation is being prepared to facilitate the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads.

“We are very positive about the EU and Sweden’s initiatives, which are important next steps for autonomous vehicles,” says Erik Dahlberg, Head of Vehicle Regulations at Scania. “It is exciting that so many countries around the world are taking initiatives towards tests and even a full-scale implementation of autonomous vehicles. It will take a considerable time before we see substantial amounts of fully automated vehicles on the roads, and there are still a lot of issues to be solved, but facilitating tests is an important first step.”

“We welcome a broad discussion”

Among other things, the proposed Swedish legislation, discusses liability issues for the driver, such as who is legally responsible for a test using an autonomous vehicle.

“We welcome a broad discussion about all legal issues surrounding autonomous vehicles,” Dahlberg says. “Today, there are discrepancies between different countries, but it’s good that the discussions have started so that we will see legislation being globally harmonised.”

Dahlberg says that several countries in Europe – including Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany and Spain – have shown interest in testing autonomous vehicles, and have approached Scania for initiating test projects on public roads.

“It’s positive that government bodies are proactive and that they see the possibilities with autonomous vehicles and the role that automated systems and platooning can play for road safety, the environment and better efficiency in the transport system.”

Different levels of automation

5. Full automation: the full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver.

4. High automation: the driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

3. Conditional automation: the driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

2. Partial automation: the driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.

1. Driver assistance: the driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.

0. No automation: the full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems.

Source: Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)

Progress in legislation for tests of self-driving vehicles

  • Sweden has proposed new legislation to facilitate tests with self-driving cars, trucks and buses, which would take effect from May 1, 2017. Up till now, the driver has also had full legal responsibility also for a highly automated vehicle. But the new legislation proposes that when the vehicle is in self-driving mode, the test organisation which applied for the permit is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle can be operated safely.
  • Finland aims to be a leading country in automated transports and robotisation. Current Finnish legislation already permits far-reaching tests with autonomous vehicles. In Finland there are no legal requirements that a driver has to be inside the vehicle.
  • The Netherlands plans large-scale tests with autonomous vehicles and has initiated a process to change the current legislation. According to draft legislation, the country will allow drivers to be positioned outside the vehicle. But a human driver has to be able to take control of the vehicle.
  • The UK is actively testing autonomous vehicles. A report from 2015 concludes that there are no legal obstacles for testing self-driving vehicles on roads as long as there is a person present that takes responsibility for the vehicle being driven safely. National guidelines stipulate that the test organisation is responsible for road safety issues, and that tests must have been carried out in closed environments before being allowed on public roads.

Source: The road towards self-driving vehicles, bill SOU 2016:28, Sweden