Insights into Issues: Autonomous Vehicle Technology
For the past hundred years, innovation within the automotive sector has created safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles, but progress has been incremental. The industry now appears close to substantial change, engendered by autonomous, or “self-driving,” vehicle technologies.
An autonomous car is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Autonomous cars can detect surroundings using a variety of techniques such as radar, lidar, GPS, odometry and computer vision. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage. Autonomous cars have control systems that are capable of analyzing sensory data to distinguish between different cars on the road, which is very useful in planning a path to the desired destination.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in USA has adopted the classification of automated cars on the basis of definition by Society of Automotive Engineers :
- Level 0: The driver completely controls the vehicle at all times.
- Level 1: Individual vehicle controls are automated, such as electronic stability control or automatic braking
- Level 2: At least two controls can be automated in unison, such as adaptive cruise control in combination with lane keeping.
- Level 3: The driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and provides a “sufficiently comfortable transition time” for the driver to do so.
- Level 4: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions, it could include unoccupied cars.
Autonomous cars usage:
Companies like Google, Delphi Automotive, Bosche, Tesla, Nissan Mercedes-Benz, Uber and Audi have already begun testing self-driving cars on the roads. Uber has launched a self driven car cab service in partnership with Nutonomy in Singapore. Tesla has already launched self driven cars called Model S on the road, 2 of which have been involved in fatal accidents raising questions over the safety of such cars
Automated Vehicle Technology Offers Several Benefits
- Without driver error, fewer vehicle crashes will result.
- The mobility of the young, the elderly, and the disabled will be increased.
- Traffic flow could be more efficient and congestion decreased.
- Vehicle occupants could spend travel time engaged in other activities, so the costs of travel time and congestion are reduced.
- Fuel efficiency can be increased and alternative energy sources facilitated.
- Because such vehicles won’t need proximate urban parking, space used for parking could be repurposed.
There Are Possible Drawbacks
- Because the technology would decrease the cost of driving, congestion might increase, rather than decrease.
- Occupations and economies based on public transit, crash repair, and automobile insurance might suffer as the technology makes certain aspects of these occupations obsolete.
- There are debates over the safety of such cars especially in the case of Tesla model which combines autonomous driving features with human intervention. Such technology, as pointed out by Google, is counter intuitive which leads to more accidents.
- Self driven cars in countries like India would be opposed by taxi unions as it affects employment opportunities
Policy Implications Include Liability and Regulation Issues
- Manufacturer liability is likely to increase while personal liability is likely to decrease. If a vehicle and a human share driving responsibility, the insurance issues could become more complicated.
- Inconsistent state regulation poses a risk — if different states have different regulations, it would be difficult for manufacturers to match them all; likewise, vehicle owners might not be able to travel outside their state of residence.
- Because many of the benefits of autonomous vehicle technology accrue to those other than the purchaser, subsidies or taxes may be necessary in order to maximize social welfare by equalizing the public and private costs and benefits.
Autonomous Vehicles in India:
Every year 5 lakh road accidents are reported in the country in which 1.5 lakh people lose their lives. Government is committed to reduce the accidents and fatalities by 50% in five years. To address the issue of road safety, a draft Road Transport & Safety Bill is prepared by NDA government.
The focus of the bill is on:
- Enhancement of compensation for Hit & Run cases from Rs. 25000 to Rs. 2lakhs. It also has provision for payment of compensation upto Rs 10 lakh in road accidents fatalities.
- The amendments mainly focus on issues relating to improving road safety, citizens’ facilitation while dealing with the Transport Department. Strengthening rural transport, last mile connectivity and public transport, automation and computerization and enabling online services
- The process for testing and certification for automobiles is proposed to be regulated more effectively. The testing agencies issuing automobile approvals have been brought under the ambit of the Act
- To facilitate transport solutions forDivyang, the bottlenecks have been removed in respect of grant of driving licenses as well as alterations in the vehicles to make it fit for use of Divyang.
These policy measures show the enhanced focus on improving the road safety scenario in India and the growing recognition that road accidents have a significant economic impact. There also needs to be greater improvement in the regulatory environment before autonomous cars are introduced in India, first step being taken by the aforementioned bill.
Other challenges in the introduction of autonomous cars in India are:
- Vehicles would need to be able to handle the extreme conditions on Indian roads such as avoiding major potholes, animals that share the roads with cars, other cars that do not always obey traffic signals, and dealing with the vast number of cars on the roads
- India’s slow-moving legislation would present a challenge for the autonomous car, as it is quite behind in terms of imposing expected traffic rules.
However car makers around the world are looking at India despite these challenges because of following reasons:
- Large market
- IT and analytics skills huge in India
- Make in India push in India which focuses on developing manufacturing sector
- Expertise of automobile part manufacturers in India
Way forward for autonomous cars:
- Further research should be conducted to better quantify the likely costs and benefits of the technology and, just as importantly, to whom they will accrue.
- As the technology evolves, policymakers should consider subsidies or taxes to equalize the public and private costs and benefits of this technology.
- In general, autonomous vehicle technology ought to be permitted if and when it is superior to average human drivers.
- Judges should consider incorporating the long-run costs and benefits of a technology in ruling on product liability suits.
- At this point, aggressive policymaker intervention with respect to regulations or liability is premature and would probably do more harm than good, but that may change over time.