Self driving cars? Hang on a second

Blog post posted on 24/06/19 |

Exclusive by Nic Fasci, managing director of ATE-EL

Nic is a road safety testing specialist and talks about road safety issues around the world. ATE-EL as company offering automotive homologation in the area of technical certifications of vehicles and their components.

Whether you like it or not – they’re coming! An unstoppable tsunami of technology, a deluge of data and hardware that is being “sold” to the human race as a game changer, something that will make our lives better and ultimately safer on our roads, but will there be a ‘ghost in the machine’ at the end of it?

Bits of random code that will lurk in the dark corner of an electronic control unit somewhere, to make this so called “autonomous utopia” a ticking time bomb no-one will be able to control?

I am of course talking about the autonomous vehicle. Over the last few years, manufacturers have been slowly introducing chunks of technology to theoretically ease drivers into the autonomous world, subconsciously “training” drivers to use the technology so when the first fully approved autonomous vehicles hit the roads, everyone will be used to them and it will be a seamless introduction to the world.

However, nothing at the moment could be further from the truth. I am, for my apparent dinosaur views on driving sins one of the very few on this most harmless small blue-green planet that remains unconvinced that this is the right direction for the world to be heading in.

OK, I can’t really hide it because I’ll go pop – I really don’t like the thought of them being on our roads as I believe they will cause more injuries and deaths in the coming years than leaving them off the roads and for me, driver training is the key to reducing deaths and injuries.

I’m well known for my views on autonomous vehicles and driver training and I get a fair bit of flak from people saying that I’m wrong. Well I’m not entirely wrong as I predicted that there would be 10 deaths in 2018 due to poor programming and execution of AV development testing. A statistic based on things I’d seen and witnessed – and the sad thing was … I was right.

People around me who actually care about driving, who enjoy it and want to keep it an enjoyable experience share my views and passion for getting behind the wheel and feel that their personal freedom is being eroded because the legislators believe that this will save us all.

They, like me do not relish the thought of automatically guided drones on our roads as it raises some massive ethical questions and also could start lawsuits against programmers of AV’s as well as manufacturers because the training element has been painfully overlooked!

If people were trained better at the start of their driving career and took the decision to follow training programmes, with IAM Roadsmart for example, the world would instantly become a better place - because driving skill would be put back in to the world.

People might actually care about other road users as opposed to being selfish and self-centred, cocooned in a metal cage thinking they’re better than everyone else who takes massive unnecessary risks. Training and mind set is key.

Training can then be implemented back into the manufacturers’ development world where the programmers responsible for autonomous vehicle (AV) development will be driving at a higher standard, just like an IAM RoadSmart member would be to think about the driving environment and everything that this involves – right from a high skill base up to the psychological skills that are needed for driving in today’s environment.

If we can get this message through, things may get better and we can then improve all of the systems that have been gently introduced into vehicles to make the transition to AVs safer for all.

This of course will take, I believe well over a decade to implement and get right. We’re still too far away to make it work now, as the road infrastructure isn’t ready either and you can’t have AVs without a road infrastructure that works and communicates.

However, despite my concerns for the human race and AVs there may be some areas where they would be of great benefit such as a gated community, technology park or a university campus to name but a few.

I have a relative who’s sister lives in a huge community in Australia that has been specifically designed for the retired generation and people with reduced mobility. It’s like a small town within a city with all of the facilities and amenities you’d expect in your town, city or village – the only difference is that there are only one or two ways in and out and it’s ‘safe’ so people can take their time to get around and do what they need to do. It’s a perfect test bed for AV development where people can have a bit of freedom to move around and visit places and friend by calling at AV to take them there!

This kind of environment to me is the perfect place to deploy AVs where they can be of benefit and not ‘bullied’ off the roads, which is what will probably happen when they get put onto the major road networks.

I can see the pros and cons for the AV but for the moment, I’m firmly entrenched in the cons list as we are not ready for this to happen.

From where I sit; as someone who has to test and sign the vehicles off for Type Approval requirements, there is still too much work to do to let us put them on the roads and all the systems we have now need further driver training to make them effective and not an excuse when something goes wrong because the driver doesn’t know how to use something like cruise control properly!

I stand by my training convictions at the moment and this is what we should encourage, not reliance on immature technology that is being developed to line pockets, not save lives properly.