For every step forward the autonomous industry makes, it seems to take another two steps back.

October 2018

Tyson Fisher

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Technology has been both a friend and foe to the trucking industry. GPS systems make navigation easy. Conversely, ELDs have exacerbated issues with hours-of-service regulations. What about autonomous vehicles? The jury is still out, but the autonomous vehicle industry has taken a few hits as of late.

As stakeholders and local, state and federal governments continue to move forward with autonomous vehicle technology, many questions remain. Furthermore, setbacks like Uber’s fatal crash with a pedestrian, Tesla seeming to abandon the Semi, and Uber deciding to back out of self-driving trucks altogether raise many more questions.

In addition, a series of studies came out that were not exactly favorable for the autonomous vehicle industry. One report highlighted the regulatory issues. Another research paper revealed autonomous vehicles hitting stopped objects, and yet another report suggested autonomous vehicles are “not likely” to displace trucking jobs.

Regulatory issues

A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association highlights potential problems with automated vehicles that lawmakers and law enforcement are likely to face in the not-too-distant future.

The graphic below explains how automated technology is categorized per the Society of Automotive Engineers.

States will need to consider changes to traffic laws. For Level 4 and 5 vehicles, there is the question of legal responsibility. More specifically, laws should be amended to establish who or what is responsible for crashes or violations.

Along the lines of traffic violations, some laws may not apply to certain automated vehicles. For example, will “drivers” in Level 3-5 vehicles be held to the same distracted driving standards, including cellphone use? What about impaired driving? Will an impaired occupant in a Level 5 vehicle get charged for a DUI despite having no control of the vehicle? The report poses the questions but does not offer solutions.

The way police officers go about their job will likely change as automated vehicles become more prevalent. Many criminals have been caught through routine traffic stops. However, if every automated vehicle obeys traffic laws, traffic stops should drop dramatically. In fact, criminals could use Level 5 vehicles to transport weapons, drugs and other illegal cargo.

Then there’s the question of the logistics of pulling over a highly automated vehicle for a traffic stop. Will a Level 4 or 5 vehicle pull over for police officers? If so, how? During the period when both automated and traditional vehicles are on the road, law enforcement may need to be trained on how to identify automated vehicles.

Many state regulations dealing with vehicles assume a human driver behind the wheel. When Level 4 or 5 vehicles hit the market, those regulations may become antiquated.

A major issue is insurance. Will it be necessary to adjust insurance requirements? Who is responsible for violations and crashes? The vehicle? The software? The driver or owner? These are questions state legislators will need to discuss.

Safety

In a report released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, some Level 2 autonomous vehicles failed to stop for stationary objects, failed to stay in lanes, or experienced safety issues in other ways.

The institute evaluated the 2017 BMW 5-series with Driving Assistant Plus, 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class with Drive Pilot, 2018 Volvo S90 with Pilot Assist, 2018 Tesla Model 3 and 2016 Model S with Autopilot. Road and track tests studied the effectiveness of adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping features.

In studying adaptive cruise control, vehicles were subject to four series of track tests to examine how they respond to another vehicle in front of them stopped and exiting lanes. One test had the cars going 31 mph toward a stationary vehicle target with cruise control off and autobrake on. Both Teslas hit the stationary target.

With adaptive cruise control on, the BMW, Mercedes and both Tesla vehicles came to a slow, gradual stop, with Tesla cars braking earlier. However, the Volvo S90 braked just 1.1 seconds before impact to avoid collision, resulting in a forceful stop.

Another test had the cars following a lead vehicle that changed lanes to reveal a stationary inflatable target ahead with about 4.3 seconds to impact. With cruise control activated, none of the vehicles struck the target. The Volvo still had a more forceful brake than the other test cars.

However, results were less favorable for the technologies away from the track and out on the road. Every vehicle except the Tesla Model 3 failed to respond to stopped vehicles ahead on an actual road.

One problem the Governors Highway Safety Association addresses is public education of automated vehicles, or the lack thereof. According to the report, at least nine surveys from 2016 to June 2018 reveal that the general public does not trust or is at least skeptical of automated vehicles.

Even owners of certain levels of automated vehicles are not sure of the capabilities of their vehicles. The report mentions that some drivers of Level 2 vehicles may not monitor the vehicle or road.

Similar overestimation of a vehicle’s operation could likely occur in Levels 3-5 vehicles once they hit the market. Currently, only Level 2 vehicles are available to the travelling public. Some automakers, including Tesla and Audi, have announced plans to introduce Level 3 or 4 vehicles in the near future.

Future projections

Trucking industry stakeholders have been at odds over how jobs will be affected by automated technology. A study led by Michigan State University looked into exactly that. Its findings: The number of trucking jobs will not be affected by automated vehicles much, if at all.

Commissioned by the American Center for Mobility and supported by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the MSU report said a significant amount of automated vehicles will not be deployed until the last half of the 2020s, and those vehicles will likely displace passenger car-based driving jobs.

However, the study said truck drivers aren’t likely to suffer the same fate.

“Automated vehicle technology could incorrectly be viewed as a change that will eliminate driving jobs; however, the more nuanced assessment is that over the next decade the innovation will foster broader societal changes resulting in shifts in the workplace and workforce demands,” Shelia Cotten, MSU Foundation professor of media and information, said in a statement.

The Governors Highway Safety Association report concludes that fully self-driving vehicles will happen eventually but not anytime soon.

According to the report, a Level 2 vehicle contains up to 100 million lines of computer code. Comparatively, a Boeing 787 has 6.7 million lines of code. Software required for a Level 5 vehicle will be extremely more complex, requiring years of research, development and innovation not yet available.

The Governors Highway Safety Association believes that Level 4 vehicles “will be in use in some settings and perhaps offered to the public” by 2022. The report also notes there is a general consensus that there will be several million Level 4 vehicles on the road by 2025 and will no longer be rare by 2030.

Predictions of percentage of vehicle sales in 2040 range from 94 percent Level 4 or 5 to 50 percent. One study cited in the report suggests that the entire vehicle fleet in the United States will not reach 50 percent Level 4 or 5 vehicles until the 2050s. LL

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Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.