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The New Normal

May 23, 2017

Sitting back and letting the cars do the driving

Imagine this - you grab your morning coffee and newspaper, hop into your car, recline the seat and hit the Start button. Then you read the newspaper, click on the internet news channel, and respond to emails all while you are driven to work by your self-driving vehicle. Once you get to work, you hop out and your vehicle continues onto its next stop picking up other passengers. You don’t mind this because you are getting paid for others to use your self-driving vehicle at times when your vehicle would normally be sitting idle. This is the life!

This shouldn’t sound too far-fetched because this is what we can expect our lives to be like in a few short years as vehicle technology continues to advance in leaps and bounds. The sensors, control systems, camera visioning systems and data networks on vehicles are pushing our vehicles closer to being able to make autonomous decisions and control themselves without requiring driver intervention.

This technological shift is not only making our lives easier by freeing us up to multi-task and get other things done while being transported, it is also making our roads safer. We have already seen a marked decline in fatalities and serious injuries resulting from motor vehicle collisions. This improvement in roadway safety can be largely attributed to the development of driver assist and supplemental restraint technologies. By removing the opportunity for human error, the number of motor vehicle collisions is reduced and the severity of occupant injuries is mitigated.

Some examples of beneficial vehicle technologies include: lane departure warning that alerts drivers when the vehicle veers out of the travel lane, adaptive cruise control that maintains a fixed distance with the vehicle in front instead of a constant speed, supplemental restraints that deploy automatically in a collision, dynamic stability control that helps keep a vehicle moving on its intended path in slippery conditions and, more recently, pre-emptive braking systems that brake the vehicle automatically when a hazard is detected ahead. These safety systems are no longer just being offered on the high end vehicle models, but are becoming standard features on most trim lines as the cost of their development and implementation drop.

Vehicles won’t become fully autonomous overnight. There will be a methodical transition through varying levels of automation. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has defined six levels of driving automation ranging from conventional vehicles with no automation (Level 0) to fully automated vehicles that perform all dynamic driving tasks full-time with no human driver intervention (Level 5). The steps in between will involve vehicles that have partial automation requiring human drivers to still monitor the driving environment (Level 2) and conditional automation where the vehicle will require the human driver to intervene only at specific times (Level 3).

Roadway and driving environments will become a complex myriad of competing priorities as vehicles of varying degrees of automation attempt to cohabitate. This complexity will also embed itself into the insurance business as questions will arise as to who or what is liable for vehicle operation at different points in time. Is the human sitting in the vehicle responsible for a vehicle’s actions while under partial automated operation? Is the vehicle manufacturer responsible for the outcome of a mishap when a human driver does not intervene when prompted? Not only will insurance policies have to evolve with the developing technology, but also roadway government regulations will have to accommodate the self-driving vehicle.

In our role as forensic engineers who reconstruct collisions, we also must adjust to developing technologies. In fact, we have already had to do so. Historically, collisions were analyzed strictly by the application of basic physics principles and review of the physical evidence. However, In the last fifteen years, event data recorders have become integrated into almost every vehicle, making the review of electronic data a necessary part of every accident reconstruction. It requires a skilled practitioner’s experience and knowledge to interpret and evaluate what the data means.

We can expect, in the years ahead, that this will continue. There will be much more electronic data available for review through additional modules and event recorders being implemented in vehicles that contain self-driving control algorithms. We will have to be prepared for this new normal.

Written by Andrew Happer


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By Jim Happer - May 25, 2017
I can’t ever see the MV Branch ever allowing a manufacturer or machine to take over the responsibility for the safe driving of a motor vehicle from its driver.rnI would love to have a car that would get me home safely after an evening out with the boys, and if the car and I had an accident I wouldn’t need to pass a breathalyzer test.rn

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