Fleets and technology: How safe must an automated vehicle be?

Written by Ellie

TRL academy director Nick Reed gives an insight into how automated vehicles will impact on the fleets of the future.

Sanctuary. When an intense day-long meeting ends, getting into one’s car can feel like a haven – safe from the daily grind of business matters. Company policies often dictate no phone calls are to be made when driving for safety reasons and the only distractions might be Test Match Special or Simon Mayo. One’s attention must be focused on safe control of the vehicle and successful navigation to the desired destination.

Automated vehicles might change this picture but in ways that are difficult to predict.

The past year has seen some striking announcements and partnerships in the rapidly evolving automated vehicle space. These include Volvo partnering with Uber on the development of automated cars; GM investing in Lyft with a view to developing automated ride-sharing services; Google spinning out its self-driving car division as ‘Waymo’ (a mobility service company) and Toyota investing $1 billion (£800 million) in a new research institute dedicated to artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.

In parallel, the UK has been advancing its ambitions to be a world leader in automated vehicle testing and development. This has included the development of a code of practice for testing automated vehicles, the creation of a dedicated policy unit to these activities (the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles), and funding support (matched by industry) committed to encourage research and collaboration in the advance of connected and
automated vehicles.

For our own part, we at TRL have made progress on a range of innovative initiatives including the Greenwich Automated Transport Environment project (Gateway), investigating societal acceptance of automation through trials of a range of vehicle types and the development of the Royal Borough of Greenwich as the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab – a dedicated urban environment for testing and accelerating the development of connected and automated vehicles.

There is huge momentum behind the development of automated vehicles to the extent the question is ‘when’ and not ‘if’ such vehicles will become common on our roads.

However, there is one key question: ‘how safe must an automated vehicle be before society will accept its use?’ The answer will not be easy to determine.

In its self-driving car programme, running since 2010, Google has completed more than two million miles of automated driving on public roads across four states in the US. This is a truly impressive feat with only one collision in which the vehicle could be said to have been at fault. How many miles would they need to complete in order to convince us that their vehicles are safe – five million? Ten million?

In the UK, the average distance driven between fatal collisions is around 180 million miles. It would take many years and many vehicles to reach this figure; if one drove at 60mph continuously, it would take more than 340 years to cover this distance. Even if it were achieved without loss of life, how many more miles would be required to be satisfied that vehicles were safe? Although the loss of life on UK roads is unacceptably high, these calculations give some indication as to the incredibly high level of safety and reliability we are expecting of automated vehicle technology.

Read the full article on Fleet News

Posted on 17th March 2017

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