20 sep 19

Only 1-in-5 Collisions Preventable by Autonomous Driving

TRL (Transport Research Laboratory), a global centre for transport research based in the UK, recently released a report into the safety of autonomous vehicles and their predicted impact on collision rates.

Its findings suggest that one-in-five serious collisions could be prevented with the introduction of automated vehicles. That’s a mere 22% and although, most people would agree, one life is worth saving from death or injury, it begs the question – is the investment worth it?

Global investment in developing automated vehicles

A Frost & Sullivan Report: Global Autonomous Driving Market Outlook, 2018 stated that around $80 billion was invested in developing AD (Autonomous Driving) technology 2014-17. A further $180 billion will be invested by 2022.

Estimates vary but the technology required to develop a fully autonomous vehicle is expected to add $100,000 to the list price. Even semi-autonomous features, such as Tesla’s Autopilot and Cadillac’s Super Cruise already add between $5000 and $10,000 to the cost. Surely that level of investment deserves more than a 22% improvement in collision rates?

TRL’s study considered the scenario with traditional and level 4 autonomous vehicles coexisting, which could explain the low percentage but that in itself casts doubt upon whether it’s actually possible to have such disparate vehicles operating with contradicting practices on the roads at the same time?

Biggest change to road safety

Richard Cuerden, director of the TRL Academy, commented: “Our analysis suggests the introduction of automated vehicles to our roads is likely to bring the biggest change to road safety since the introduction of the seatbelt.”

He went on to add that more data is needed to build a robust view of future collisions and opportunities for improving occupant protection.

But where will that data come from? It has to stand up as reliable and credible in order to inform legislation.

Many companies are collecting data relating to the performance of their technology in collisions and near misses but OEMs and technology providers need to come together to help develop an aggregate data set to present a more detailed picture.

Autonomous legislation across Europe

There is currently a legislation conundrum across Europe. EU member states are at different stages in the process. Although there’s progress, there’s nothing in the way of formalised harmony as to the operation of autonomous vehicles throughout the Union.

TRL is calling for a consistent standard that promotes best practice, which it wants to be applied at all connected and automated vehicle test beds.

In the UK there is a Code of Practice for Automated Vehicle Trialling, updated by the Department for Transport earlier this year (2019). In Germany, the Autonomous Vehicle Bill was enacted in June 2017. France is establishing a legislative framework that will allow the testing of autonomous cars on public roads. Spain is working to expand rules for self-driving vehicles and modify insurance laws. Regulation for autonomous testing currently comes from the Dirección General de Tráfico. Italy passed its first law regulating the testing of autonomous vehicles in February 2018.

Benefits beyond safety

In terms of safety, it’s currently impossible for anyone to say whether automated vehicles will be worth it. Thousands (if not millions) of test miles have to be driven before we will know. But the benefits of such vehicles extend beyond safety. Owners will enjoy reduced repair costs, parking charges, transportations costs, cheaper insurance. We can all be blessed by a cleaner environment, reduced congestion, fewer cars on the road.

So, while automakers, suppliers, dealers, insurers, parking companies, personal injury lawyers and governments will lose out on revenues as a result of having automated vehicles on the roads, by 2030, self-driving vehicles are expected to create $87 billion worth of opportunities for them.

Authored by: Alison Pittaway