By R. Bruce Striegler

“Automated vehicles are going to have a big and disruptive impact on many different departments of all three levels of government and many different businesses. Unfortunately in Canada, we are dead last of the G7 nations in our preparation for this big disruption,” says Barrie Kirk, Executive Director, Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE). In terms of legislation, there are no new federal standards for self-driving cars and Kirk says that will need to be changed. “Any vehicles imported into Canada need to meet the Canadian Vehicle Safety Standards, and those standards have not yet been modified.”

One of the first experts Canadian Sailings sought to explain autonomous vehicles (AV) was Dr. Homayoun Najjaran, PhD, P.Eng, a professor at UBC’s Okanagan School of Engineering. When speaking of Canadian societal and governmental readiness for the technology, he commented that other than Ontario, which he says has undertaken a number of pro-active steps, Canada remains a somewhat dismal landscape as autonomous vehicle technology becomes a high-profile, emerging technology around the world. “When you compare attention to the field in the U.S., we are not looking organized or ready, and then to compare our status against Europe, we’re much further behind.” For Dr. Najjaran however, there is a more worrisome side. “The real danger is that as we train people in this technology, and we are, and they are good, is that if they graduate to circumstances lacking jobs, challenges and opportunities, all this talent will simply move to the U.S., Europe or Asia and we become service providers rather than pioneers in this technology.”

CAVCOE’s Barrie Kirk says that the Ontario Ministry of Transportation is leading the country, having published guidelines for using self-driving cars on Ontario roads. “This isn’t just for testing, but for operating. They’ve also published an application form to get special permits to do this.” Mr. Kirk praised the Ontario approach, noting that both the guidelines and the application form are each one-page, “Very, very straight-forward,” he says. In Ontario, the Minister of Transportation has ordered the establishment of a regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles. Along with the transportation ministry, Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Ministry of Research and Innovation have teamed up to announce a Connected Vehicle/ Autonomous Vehicle (CVAV) Research Program.

Safety one of the biggest benefits of AV technology

Kirk emphasizes that we should not lose sight of safety as we debate autonomous vehicles. “Most people feel that computers are going to be much safer drivers than humans. With approximately 2,000 traffic-related deaths in Canada each year and far more injuries, it’s my hope that we can save 80 per cent of those collision-related deaths or nearly 1,600 people per year.” In a 2007 study commissioned by Transport Canada, road collisions had a societal cost of $62 billion, or the equivalent of 4.9 per cent of GDP that year. By comparison, the U.S. societal cost estimate is $871 billion (2010), or the equivalent of six per cent of GDP, and a direct cost estimate of $277 billion, or 1.9 per cent of GDP.

Mark Francis, Manager Driver and Vehicle Licencing for Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) is responsible for vehicle registration and licencing programs in the province while also supporting government driver safety programs. As B.C.’s representative at the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA), Francis says, “We want to see fewer crashes, injuries and fatalities and we think this technology offers the greatest prospect to achieve that.” Noting that driver error is responsible for 93 to 95 per cent of crashes, Francis says that the emerging technology offers the best solution to achieve road safety goals. Along with his counterparts from across the country, members of CCMTA’s Driver and Vehicle Committee, he says that study and assessment of the administration of drivers licence and vehicle registration programs will lead to harmonization across the country. “This technology has tremendous potential and we don’t want to be obstacles in its deployment. We want to help facilitate it and we think we have a role helping influence consumer or public perception of these vehicles so people will have a little less apprehension.”

Target date for regulations and legislation 2020

Francis says ICBC sees its role breaking down into two parts. The first is to provide manufacturers adequate ability to test their vehicles while at the same time looking down the road to understand what is needed when the time comes for full deployment. At a national workshop in held in November, vehicle administrators began the work on a national roadmap in terms of what needs to be done. “We identified about ten issues that we think need to be addressed that include policy and legislation, cyber-security, overall safety, insurance and liability and how we want to AV technology to be reflected on vehicle licencing and drivers licences” He says that it’s important that a consistent regulatory framework is established across the country. “We don’t want a patchwork of regulation where manufacturers or consumers have to worry about differences between provinces or for that matter, U.S. states.”

When it comes to timing, Francis says best practice standards and model legislation need to be finalized for the testing phase within the next several years. “From there, the next step is full deployment. We’re hearing some of the leading manufacturers say that by 2020 they will have product ready for sale to the public. We’re looking at that as a target date for whatever regulatory structure may be appropriate.” Currently there are 2015 model-year vehicles carrying some components of self-driving technology such as crash avoidance systems, and one of the things Francis and his colleagues at CCMTA are looking at is whether or not drivers licence testing standards need to be changed to reflect a driver’s abilities to handle the new technology.

Barrie Kirk says that one of the things he finds interesting is that those who have driven in a self-driving auto frequently comment how quickly they adapt to it and how ordinary it feels. “Sometimes they adapt too comfortably.” He tells a story how three years ago Google developed a fully autonomous vehicle, capable of driving ‘on-ramp’ to ‘off-ramp’ on a freeway. “They took a group of volunteers from the public, briefed them thoroughly, advised them that everything was on camera, then turned them lose on the self-driving cars. People forgot they were being watched and became very comfortable – too comfortable to be monitoring the car.” He explains that the length of time it takes for the computer to tell the operator he or she needs to take over can be as much as 25 to 30 seconds. For Google this discovery became their Eureka moment and Kirk says that when they discovered people trusted the technology, their attention wandered even further. Google realized that their success with the technology was a failure. “You cannot rely on people being a ‘plan B’, you have to develop a car that does everything for itself.”

But before those cars start doing everything for themselves, the federal government has to have a say. A spokesperson for Transport Canada explains that it has been assessing some of the components of automated vehicles for many years, including the safety performance of automated braking systems. Other advanced technologies currently being used by the automotive industry include roll stability control, traction control as well as a number of warning and crash mitigation systems.

Seamless cross-border approach; Transport Canada working with U.S. counterparts

“As driving demands situational awareness and thinking, machines will need to improve their ability to read traffic signs and signals, anticipate the actions of other road users, and negotiate unpredictable challenges like construction and unmarked or snow-covered roads,” says Transport Canada. They explain that one technology that will help autonomous vehicles deal with these situations is vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. With these systems, vehicles and transportation infrastructure will ‘talk’ to each other as well to handheld devices. Referred to as connected vehicle (CV) technologies, they are critical for safety, efficiency, and the operations of autonomous vehicles. In addition, CVs provide information about weather conditions, something in-vehicle sensors may not detect.

Transport Canada and the U.S. Department of Transportation are collaborating on CV technology and application development. Scheduled from January 2015 to December 2019 the objectives are to develop a cross-border connected vehicle security certificate management system and to establish certification requirements for CV system components. The work will focus on device compliance needs, safety and human factors, system security and privacy requirements, and generally support seamless cross-border vehicle operations and full interoperability between both countries. Attention will also be paid to developing certification requirements for in-vehicle, after-market, and road-side CV equipment.

In September 2015, the G7 Transport Ministers committed to establishing an automated vehicles working group. In October 2015 Transport Canada announced a $1.5M funding contribution to support the development of a Canadian Connected Vehicle test-bed at the University of Alberta. ACTIVE-AURORA will provide real-world test zones, combined with laboratory settings, where conditions can be customized to simulate various situations. Researchers will be able to test systems that would let a driver know that a collision has happened up ahead, or that traffic is slowing after the next exit, which could be used to improve traffic flow as well as safety. The three-year project is being led by University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia, and will build on existing research programs and partnerships. Together, the universities will collect and analyze data that will lead to improved traffic safety and efficiency for travelers, transport companies, and other users of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and its corridors.

Transport Canada noted in its statement to Canadian Sailings that as automated vehicle technology improves, “we’ll need new safety standards, however the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards do not restrict the introduction of automated vehicles in Canada. These vehicles are expected to meet the same safety requirements as conventional vehicles.”

Self-driving cars to be produced in Ontario by 2017

CAVCOE’s Barrie Kirk says that provincial governments as well as the federal government have a role to play in stimulating the introduction of automated vehicles. “The Ministry of Transportation in Ontario takes credit, having established $2.5M fund to help pay for development for connected and autonomous vehicles. As far as I know, none of the other provinces have matched that.” He goes on to say that the Canadian federal government must take a more active role, pointing out that in the U.K., a parliamentary committee has recommended an appointment of a Minister for Driverless Vehicles. “They understand that one has to coordinate across a wide range of government departments, not just transportation.”

With GM’s announcement at the first of December 2015, it’s clear that autonomous vehicles are coming to Canada in a big way. A fleet of self-driving 2017 Chevrolet Volts will be produced in Oshawa, and Steve Carlisle, President of GM Canada, was quoted in reports as saying, “Our governments will need to be increasingly involved with connected and autonomous car technology as we invest in new infrastructure.” he said. “A good example of this is the government of Ontario’s actions to enable autonomous-vehicle testing on our roads under controlled conditions.” This decision, he claimed, made it possible for GM to develop autonomous cars in Oshawa: “Ontario’s leadership in allowing for autonomous-vehicle testing was a helpful support.”

Carlisle also suggested that the previous government’s free-trade deals, such as the as-yet-unratified Trans-Pacific Partnership, are another incentive to the Canadian automotive industry. “Canada has an open door into one of the most exciting new areas of technological change on the planet,” he said. “It has an open door to new global supply chains.” Further, he cast the new Liberal government’s platform, which includes promised spending on research and development and transport infrastructure, as an opportunity for his industry. “We now have provincial and federal governments that understand the opportunity and importance of innovation and building an economy that is technology-based and value-added.”