Canada: Getting Ready For Autonomous Vehicles

Last Updated: April 23 2018
Article by Don Lidstone

 The autonomous vehicle is transformative technology. The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines autonomous driving system vehicles (ADS) as those in which operation of the vehicle occurs without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration, and braking. Fully autonomous vehicles perform all driving functions under all conditions.

Municipalities (and the Province) will have to resolve key liability, regulatory, planning, engineering and budgeting issues to accommodate the massive market for driverless vehicles. Fully automated and nationally certified vehicles will be on the road in numbers before 2022. NVIDIA has already developed a beta chip circuit and board that an auto industry brand may utilize under licence, and Tesla and Toyota expect to be approved by 2021. Municipalities will have to ramp up in many areas, and must deal with the awkward transition period of about ten years when driverless vehicles will share the road with vehicles piloted by humans. For example, "autonomous only" zones will be created around high-traffic areas.

Fully automated and connected driverless vehicles will usher in a time when there are virtually no accidents, existing and future off street and on street parking requirements will be substantially reduced, disabled and aged persons will have greater mobility, commute times and congestion will be halved initially, and transportation emissions will be reduced. ADS cars can travel close together and at higher speeds. General Motors predicts the cost of an ADS ride will be cut by more than one half compared to current costs of operating or using vehicles.

British Columbians have been familiar with ADS technology since 1985 when the first cars were introduced on the SkyTrain guiderail system. The difference between SkyTrain and driverless vehicles is the fact that the latter will take over our highways, interfacing with all the other driverless vehicles at intersections, when passing or changing lanes, or when dropping off or picking up passengers.

At this time, it appears there will be at least five classes of ADS vehicles: public transportation (driverless buses and vans), ride hailing services,

car sharing, service/delivery vehicles (including door to door delivery of online purchases), and the private "automobile". Given the accessibility and cost of travelling in public or ride hailing services, and the predicted ability of an occupant to customize destinations and things like routes, workspaces and infotainment during each trip, it is anticipated that less people will own private automobiles. University of Michigan researchers predict reduction of car ownership by up to 43 per cent. Others predict more "rides" ultimately, as the aged and disabled get out more, online purchases get delivered and people generally prefer being chauffeured.

Every municipality will face additional costs, increased staffing or consultancies, continuing education of existing staff, and a substantial investment in cyber security and system upgrades to keep up with daily changes in ADS technology. Currently, numerous entities are racing to study and develop sensors, municipal mapping, inter-vehicular "communications", and vehicle energy/spacing/speed algorithms, yet municipalities are collectively or individually doing very little despite the onslaught of ADS vehicles within five years.

Autonomous vehicles constitute one area where it makes little sense to have a patchwork of unique regulations from one municipality to the next. Although Cambridge and Watertown, both in Massachusetts, are pioneering local "driverless" regulations, their regs are distinctly different from each other. BC's laughably archaic Motor Vehicle Act will need absolute overhauling. Ontario is currently licencing entities to test driverless vehicles, and Alberta is close behind. Calgary and Waterloo have initiated programs. In the US, at least 17 states permit autonomous vehicle testing, with substantial testing every day by thousands of vehicles in California and Arizona. In Michigan, a national pizza company is testing driverless deliveries (in vehicles, not by drones).

The municipal risk management focus will change from the design, installation or maintenance of stop signs and traffic signals to the procurement, installation and upgrading of computer systems that communicate with ADS vehicles at intersections, at crosswalks, in lanes, for driveway or parking lot access, and that prioritize trips (emergency vehicles getting top priority). Based on current testing, mere line painting will have to be replaced with new road design and lane and intersection control communications from municipal systems. Already in 2018 the stage-three autopilot shuts down if the driver merely take the hands off the wheel three times on any trip, so consider how powerful the municipal software and infrastructure will be in relation to speeding governors, lane change permissions, pedestrian/bike avoidance, stopping, or parking. Municipalities or regions or the Province will have to regulate inter-vehicle communication, vehicle to road communication, transit, ride-sharing or ride-hailing, and to enact local "meet or beat" regs where federal or provincial laws leave constitutional room.

Considering how routinely current email and other computer applications crash or freeze, municipalities will have to spend money and hire expertise to ensure that public safety is not put at risk by system failures or cyber-attacks.

Municipal budgeting will be impacted. Revenue from parking, moving violations, vehicle levies, gas tax, and towing will be substantially eliminated by 2025. Taxi licencing revenue will decline. Policing and bylaw enforcement costs will be significantly reduced: imagine municipal rules of the road being policed by overarching routine municipal computerized communications with vehicles instead of by motorcycle police or bylaw enforcement officers with chalk sticks. Municipalities will be able to get revenue from public charging stations once most vehicles are propelled by electricity, and from smart tolling and private carrier fees.

After dealing with the piloted automobile for a century and a half, municipal planning will have to be inventive and adaptive to keep up with the changes that are coming: drop-off spaces instead of parking, changing parkades into other uses, more distant commutes occasioned by speedier vehicles spaced closely without congestion, density driven by mass transit and app-driven ride-sharing or ride-hailing, block-by-block charging stations, and the sudden disappearance of car dealers, gas stations, and suburban shopping centres.

Ultimately, local government measures will have to be developed as policies rather than

operational decisions in order to help address liability concerns, and implementation will have to strictly comply with policies. The governmental computer system intrusions into an individual's location, travel patterns, interactions and other things will have to be reconciled with protection of personal privacy. On the other hand, personal safety will be a key advantage of driverless highways: WHO estimates over 1.5 million traffic deaths per year worldwide currently, and the financial implications of injuries to society are immeasurable. In driverless vehicles, people will be able to drink, text, watch films, play car racing video games, or virtually anything but drive distractedly.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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