FIM Brussels - Autonomous driving: How can they best interrelate with vulnerable road users?
Increasingly the discussion surrounding autonomous driving is gathering more and more attention. The initial hype no longer remains solely among OEMs either as the attention of policymakers has been firmly grasped on both sides of the Atlantic. Significantly, in Europe the EU is set to issue a Communication on connected and automated driving as part of the Third Mobility Package, due to be published on 16th May.
At present, little doubt remains regarding whether or not autonomous vehicles will become widespread in the near future. The debate now has shifted to whether or not autonomous vehicles can safely interrelate with other road users, and more specifically, vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
Chiefly, this issue has risen to prominence as a direct result of several high profile incidents. Most recently, the case of the Uber crash in Arizona, USA, which resulted in the death of a cyclist, sharpened the global focus on the subject. The vehicle in question was being driven fully autonomously as part of testing on public roads with a ‘safety driver’ present i.e. a person positioned to override the autonomous driving system when necessary.
From this specific case alone it is clear that autonomous driving is still in the developmental stages and has much to learn in terms of how such vehicles operate with vulnerable road users. Additionally, some onus rests on the other side of the relationship to outline what vulnerable road users require to safely interact with autonomous vehicles.
A group of European academics recently considered this specific issue, concentrating on what specific information cyclists and pedestrians need in order to safely interoperate with autonomous vehicles. The academics from the University of Leeds (UK) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) conducted a consultation on a live study across three European cities, including La Rochelle, France, Lausanne, Switzerland and Trikala, Greece.
The results of the study show that participants expected the same behaviour from the autonomous vehicle as from a traditional vehicle, felt less safe and wanted external communication from the vehicle regarding basic intentions such as turning and stopping in addition to confirmation of whether the vehicle had detected their presence. While the study found no consensus on how the autonomous vehicles could be communicate with vulnerable road users, it did show that a clear communication and interaction strategy is required to facilitate safe and successful operation.
While these points must be considered, specifically as vehicle testing on public roads becomes more common, on an elementary level it still remains unclear how autonomous vehicles will enter the fleet from a legal perspective. From the safety angle, the forthcoming European Commission proposal for a revision of the General Safety and Pedestrian Safety Regulations will represent a first instance for European legislators to outline how vulnerable road users can best be protected in the quickly evolving mobility landscape.