Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed legislation recently allowing for controlled testing of autonomous vehicles as long as it can be done while adhering to the current roadway rules. Hickenlooper says he is seeking a way of maintaining regulations while not creating “red tape” that could hinder innovation. State Senator Owen Hills explained that the new policy is not intended to outline a detailed set of how smart cars should be operated, instead to simply make certain the testing is safely conducted. Much of the purpose of the measure is largely promotional, serving as a sign that the state is receptive to development. Laws such as using seatbelts, turn signals, and stopping in the presence of emergency vehicles must still be followed. Those seeking to test driverless cars in Colorado must first notify the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the CO State Patrol.
Colorado State Action & Responsibilities
Smart cars that use devices such as cameras, sensors, lasers, and GPS to operate independently are being tested in California, Arizona, and Michigan. Colorado was the 17th state to pass a smart car law. Some states have created committees for assessment and development of regulations for these self-driving vehicles. The group Advocacy Denver promotes the benefits that driverless cars can deliver for the handicapped and those in the farming industry. Panasonic is creating a “smart city” in Denver which will feature EZ Shuttle autonomous vehicles. Recently, Uber demonstrated an autonomous tractor-trailer that safely traveled roughly 120 miles from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins. The federal government and state governments have different roles in regulating highly automated vehicles (HAVs). The primary state responsibilities include:
- Licensing of motor vehicle operators and handling motor vehicle registration;
- Creating, modifying, improving, and enforcement of laws and regulations;
- Executing safety reviews and inspections which will likely be conducted at set intervals for HAV’s;
- Regulation of liability and insurance issues; and
- Potential budgetary investment or tax incentives to encourage usage and add needed infrastructure.
Federal Guidance for Manufacturers
Manufacturers -or potential manufacturers- of autonomous vehicles likely feel some hesitancy toward making a significant investment in development due to a lack of federal guidance. If the government were to create limitations on operating the vehicles, potentially significant research, testing, and production could result in wasted resources. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a set of guiding provisions for manufacturers in designing, developing, and testing. These guidelines center on a 15-Point Assessment for Safety as well as internal procedures, record-keeping requirements, validation methods, and how to engage with the DOT and NHTSA. The hope is that with these guidelines, producers will proceed more confidently with development.
Google’s Waymo Project
Through Waymo, Google has taken a leading role in product development by establishing locations for autonomous vehicle testing in California, Texas, Washington, and Arizona. The company claims that the vehicles have the capability of detecting other vehicles, upcoming construction work, cyclists, and pedestrians. They surpassed the three million mile mark for navigating these vehicles. They have implemented their system in various vehicle models including compact cars, vans, and SUVs.
The Six Levels of Automated Vehicles (Federally)
The DOT has adopted the SAE International automation levels to add clarity to the emerging variety as follows:
- Level 0: A human driver controls the vehicle entirely
- Level 1: Automation is available to assist a driver with tasks and functions on a limited basis
- Level 2: Automation is capable of controlling some driving-related functions
- Level 3: A system capable of executing some driver functions and often monitoring roadway conditions
- Level 4: System has driving capabilities and the ability to monitor roadway conditions
- Level 5: All tasks that a human could execute can be performed by the system
We may see vehicles in the next ten years that are capable of exceeding Level 3 capabilities. The challenge will be whether the technology is truly capable of consistent performance and documented increases in traffic safety. Additional advancements are underway that relate to vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication capabilities which will be discussed in upcoming segments.