January 19, 2021 by Greg Meckbach
Driverless vehicles need to have some way of communicating with police, fire and ambulance responders, an auto manufacturers’ group said in a recent report.
First responders have ways of handling situations they encounter in traffic but there are no “common procedures” for interacting with Automated Driving System-Dedicated Vehicles (ADS-DVs), the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium warns.
With ADS-DVs, drivers may not be on hand to follow directions from first responders, AVSC said in the paper released last month.
AVSC, which is comprised of several major automotive manufacturers, explains why it’s important to have processes in place for first responders to communicate with driverless vehicles.
When police, fire and ambulance vehicles are responding to emergencies, they sometimes need to navigate through traffic and anticipate the reactions of other motorists, AVSC said in the paper, titled Best Practice for First Responder Interactions with Fleet-Managed Automated Driving System-Dedicated Vehicles (ADS-DVs).
Therefore, the automotive industry needs to find a way for first responders to signal to or somehow communicate with driverless vehicles so they are not obstructed by traffic, according to the report.
In the paper, AVSC was referring specifically to vehicles fitting within Level 4 or 5 of the Society of Automotive Engineers categories of vehicle automation. An SAE Level 5 vehicle can go at all times without human intervention while a Level 4 vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions. The driver may have the option to control the vehicle.
SAE Level 3 means the vehicle manages most safety-critical driving functions but the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times. With Level 2, at least two tasks are automated but the driver must remain engaged with the driving task. Level 1 means there are some features for driver safety and comfort and a human is required for all critical functions.
Ontario allows vehicles with SAE Level 3 or lower on public roads. In these cases, a human has to be in the driver’s seat in case they are able to drive when alerted to do so by the vehicle. In Ontario, drivers of SAE 3 vehicles are required by law to be in full care and control of the vehicles. Laws against distracted, careless and impaired driving apply to the human operators.
Ontario also has a testing program for driverless vehicles with SAE Level 4 or 5.
Participants require approval from the Ministry of Transportation. They need to be able to intervene with the operation of the vehicle when required, and either ride in the same vehicle as a passenger or remotely monitor it.
Level 4 and 5 vehicles can present a challenge for policy at traffic stops or checkpoints, AVSC said in its December, 2020 paper.
In some cases, police may want drivers to stop and to perform other activities such as lower windows or opening trunks. So first responders need to have some way of recognizing an automated vehicle, a way of signaling that vehicle to stop, and a way to ensure it remains stopped.
Police may also need to access documentation such as vehicle ownership, AVSC points out.
Fully autonomous vehicles are not likely to be on Canadian roads for at least another 25-30 years, Kristine D’Arbelles, senior manager of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Association, told Canadian Underwriter in an earlier interview.
D’Arbelles was referring to situations where no human is controlling the car. She was interviewed in the context of a consumer poll of Canadians about autonomous vehicles, which CAA released in May 2019.
To accommodate fully autonomous vehicles, roads will require traffic control signs and pavement markings that can be read not only by humans but also by the vehicle-borne computers, D’Arbelles said at the time.
Feature image via iStock.com/Olivier Le Moal