Automated Driving System (ADS) Vehicles and Regulation
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are working towards removing the barriers to keep Automated Driving System (ADS) Vehicles out of the US. On September 12th, the NHTSA released its guidelines for the safety of ADS vehicles. It is outlined here in their A Vision of Safety 2.0 guidelines.
The NHTSA and FMCSA are currently seeking to make highways and driving, in general, a lot safer. The agencies feel that automation is one way to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on the roadways and seek to make sure that all possibilities are being considered before moving forward.
Many people feel that if cars were capable of driving themselves, much like engaging cruise control, that some of the deaths from collisions could be avoided because the systems would detect the presence of a car in the blind spot, a car in front braking suddenly, or a car crossing the median and engages the driver to take evasive action.
“One of the department’s priorities is to prepare for the future by engaging with new technology while addressing legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
The agencies want to hear from the public on issues such as how to make vehicles in compliance with FMVSS regulations, not having human controls like a brake pedal or steering wheel. This information will help them on their way towards the future of ADS vehicles.
Both agencies have a 60-day period in which to receive feedback on the regulatory policies. The public is invited to submit their comments on this matter to the Federal Register dockets.
Previous Issues With Testing
While previous attempts at using automated systems have had some problems, the technology has good points and could be used effectively. Testing is being done on autonomous vehicles to make them better, safer, and keep people from dying in needless car crashes.
The agencies are seeking comments on how to make these vehicles safer while staying within the control of a human operator. Several models being tested currently are self-driving but require the operator to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times. If more than three seconds pass, the driver will get a message to put their hands back on the wheel.
Drowsy or Distracted Driving
Things that need to be considered in the wake of autonomous vehicles is integration with the human driver. One issue that ADS vehicles would solve is accidents caused by distracted driving. According to statistics from the National Safety Council, 100,000 accidents were caused by sleepy drivers. Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel account for 1,500 fatalities every year. Another name for this is Highway Hypnosis. It occurs when drivers are on an open roadway for extended periods of time and often become drowsy staring at the moving white line.
Vehicle automation isn’t really that far off right now. Most newer cars being sold in the US come equipped with technology called advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). You may already be familiar with some of these systems. If your vehicle has automatic cruise control, emergency braking, blind spot detection, backup cameras, or lane departure warning, then you are already using this technology. Vehicles that are equipped with software programs to avoid collision are already considered to be safer than those without it.
Proposed Levels of Automation
Autonomous vehicles still have a long way to go before they reach full automation. The general public will need to see that these vehicles are safer, and cause fewer traffic-related fatalities than human-operated vehicles.
Vehicles currently being tested are equipped with cameras and sensors that monitor the environment around the vehicle. The better tuned and accurate the sensors are, the safer they will be to use. The use of cameras, radar, and lidar technology installed in test vehicles have shown increasing promise for making roadways safer and avoiding a head-on collision. The technology isn’t perfect yet, but it is making progress and will be there in the near future. Since we are already using some of this technology now, it is a natural progression towards full automation one day.
There are 5 levels of proposed automation:
- Level 1: Vehicle stays under human control, but can use steering and acceleration automation. The driver would need to keep hands on the wheel, but it is similar to engaging cruise control.
- Level 2: Driver still needs to be alert and ready to engage, but vehicle uses more automated tasks. Steering, braking, and lane departure are all automated functions.
- Level 3: Vehicle performs and responds to external signals to brake or accelerate.
- Level 4: Vehicle functions are completely automated, but still under driver supervision.
- Level 5: Vehicle drives as if on auto-pilot, without any input or intervention from a human driver.
Level 5 automation is the end goal for all autonomous vehicles. Besides being fully integrated, they also strive to make more vehicles that use electric power or natural gas to eliminate pollution and increase air quality.
Automation In the Trucking Industry
This technology could also be adapted to buses and commercial trucks. The trucking industry has also had its share of accidents caused by drivers who were on the road too long, faulty equipment, and bad weather. Many of these accidents could possibly have been avoided, and that is what the agencies seek to accomplish.
Regulations for CDL endorsements, Hours of Service rules, and others have made a difference in making the roads safer for truckers and other drivers on the road. New innovations in software applications can make a lot of standard operations much simpler.
Software for Logistics and Transportation
One example of a company seeking to make things better through automation is UTECH. They are working to make the lives of truck drivers and the trucking companies easier by creating software applications that can automatically find the best load on a market with AI based on HOS, company, and drivers preferences, weather conditions, traffic, etc. UTECH helps trucking and logistics companies to comply with FMCSA ELD regulations with GPS Tab product, track shipments, communicate with drivers, scan paperwork and locate trucks and drivers any time of the day.