In the United States (US), vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity is also widely considered a key enabler that will lead toward achievement of the Vision Zero goal—zero fatalities and serious injuries in the worldwide road transportation system—provided that the system is considered holistically. The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) has publicly stated that V2X technologies have the potential for “significant safety and mobility benefits, both on their own and as complementary technologies when combined with in-vehicle sensors.”8
For example, with speed being one of the major factors contributing to the initiation or severity of a crash, communicating speed limits or advisories—and possibly variable conditions based on current weather and roadway construction—from infrastructure to vehicles can more directly provide information to drivers and automated driving systems on what the recommended safe speed to operate currently is. In addition, information could be transmitted between vehicles when there is an unsafe condition, such as a large speed differential between vehicles in proximity to each other or a queue in traffic ahead, to inform other vehicles and their drivers on how to best prepare for approaching conditions.
In the United Kingdom, the A2M2 Connected Vehicle Corridor Trial9 tested systems that connect motorway signaling with displays in test vehicles to demonstrate the potential benefits of providing variable speed limit and roadworks information directly to in-vehicle displays.
Today’s collision avoidance systems are often vehicle-based and relatively independent from infrastructure, but they could be coupled with collision notification systems that communicate to infrastructure once a collision has occurred. This, along with applications such as emergency vehicle pre-emption, which adjusts signal timing along an emergency vehicle’s route to support safer and faster crossing of intersections, could work to decrease response time if a crash has occurred, which can help reduce the severity of any injuries.
Look Through the Same Lens
Not all vehicle and technology companies, including some of those that are developing automated driving systems, are considering this partnership between road and vehicle as a critical step. Some technologists feel they do not need connectivity and that they can design their vehicle software or hardware systems to navigate traditional roadways rather than opening the dialogue on how better designed and more intelligent roadway systems could support and be supported by their vehicle systems.
Because the future of advanced or automated driving systems is fragmented across a diverse group of stakeholder organizations and companies, some are content to simply “design a better driver” through software and assume that it can operate in any design domain or environmental conditions. They have failed to see the value that connectivity can bring to the equation in terms of broadening the data input into the driving decision-making process. While these endeavours will continue to enjoy limited success within specific geofenced conditions, they will eventually reach a plateau in terms of effectiveness due to their limited ability to “see beyond the vehicle itself.”
But even if everyone viewed connectivity as a principal concern, the CAV industry itself remains caught in a technology-driven conflict, as the development cycle for safety-dependent systems is much longer than the development cycle for new technologies. Many experts around the world spent a decade researching, developing, and testing a Wi-Fi based V2X communication protocol, while, during that time, the rapid evolution of cellular technology entered the conversation and the result was a lack of universal opinion on the best communication method for connecting devices. The anticipated proliferation of fifth-generation cellular (5G) will further complicate what is already an uncertain technology landscape.
Opportunities to Form a Holistic View
While the approach to vehicle communications and vehicle safety may not be universal among the stakeholders, ongoing dialogue and a holistic focus toward achieving Vision Zero can lead to infrastructure enhancements that reflect input from vehicle manufacturers—and would have a significant impact on safety.
For example, in the United States there has been a recent effort by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) to recommend wider pavement markings to support future automated driving systems. The NCUTCD is an organization whose purpose is to assist in the development of standards, guides and warrants for traffic control devices and practices—and make recommendations to the U.S. DOT for future inclusion in their Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
The U.S. DOT and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy also unveiled Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies: Automated Vehicles 4.0 (AV 4.0) at the beginning of 2020.10 This document builds upon previous guidance from the U.S. DOT and expands the scope to 38 relevant U.S. Government components that have direct or tangential equities in the safe development and integration of CAV technologies. A holistic viewpoint within the U.S. DOT itself, AV 4.0 seeks to ensure a consistent government approach to AV technologies, and to specify the authorities, detail the research and coordinate the investments being made across the government. Transport Canada released in January 2019 Safety Assessment for Automated Driving Systems in Canada, 11 which identifies 13 outcomes that vehicles with ADS features should be able to perform, ensuring innovation can continue while policy is still being developed. In February 2019, Transport Canada released Canada’s Safety Framework for Automated and Connected Vehicles 12 providing an overview of Canada’s legislative and regulatory regimes and standards and outlining a flexible approach that uses non-regulatory tools to support the safe testing and deployment.
Another important element to consider is the human factors component.13 This includes identifying how users will interact with any systems to ensure the desired benefits are realized without introducing other undesirable behaviors and increasing driver workload and/or distraction. This need could also open the opportunity for IOOs to work with vehicle manufacturers and technology companies to ensure any applications of in-vehicle technology are designed with safety as the highest priority.
ITS, including speed sensors and red light cameras, could also be utilized for enforcement purposes and to encourage safe road use. As noted earlier, while the physical design of vehicles, which contributes significantly to the safety of both occupants and vulnerable road users in the event of a collision, is outside the scope of ITS, various ITS technologies could be installed on vehicles to mitigate problem areas in their physical design.
Keep Equity In Sight
Vehicle manufacturers must remain vigilant in making sure safety enhancements are quickly available on the broadest cross-section of vehicles. Traditionally, new features have been implemented on high-end vehicles first and then brought to other models as consumers begin to demand them; while this method may work for luxury add-ons, it is less defensible for essential safety features.
Such progress may require a regulatory force in some cases to ensure success, similar to how all new automobiles sold in the United States, Canada, and other countries are now required to be equipped with backup cameras. This mandate took many years to develop and take effect, but now, two years after the mandate, it has been widely accepted. Another example would be Transport for London’s Bus Safety Standard which is preparing to require driver assist technologies on all new full-size motor coaches, such as intelligent speed assist and indirect vision systems (e.g. imminent collision detection/warning).14
The challenge remains that only new vehicles will benefit from changes and requirements on new vehicles, and many people already own or will purchase used vehicles. Therefore, aftermarket technologies should be designed and implemented as appropriate and, at the very least, vehicle manufacturers should consider allowing proven safety technologies to be installed on their existing vehicles without voiding warranties, especially if these technologies make it more likely for a vehicle to observe safer driving behavior and ultimately protect its occupants. In addition, during time periods in which only some vehicles benefit from certain safety functions, it will be essential to provide alternate options for unequipped vehicles. Solutions include posting information that is being sent as in-vehicle alerts on dynamic message signs and designing systems on equipped vehicles that assume other vehicles are not also equipped.
Beyond addressing equity challenges between individual vehicles, IOOs need to consider equity when approaching pilot testing of different vehicular enhancements. This includes implementing systems at different types of locations, such as signalized and unsignalized intersections, crosswalks, transit and freight corridors, and in urban and rural contexts. Another component of equity is ensuring safety across modes, with a focus on not just humans in a vehicle, but also humans traveling in the proximity of a vehicle, such as pedestrians, bicyclists, or other vulnerable road users. The safety of vulnerable road users near vehicles can be enhanced through various vehicle features such as blind spot detection and automatic emergency braking, as well as infrastructure-based pedestrian detection systems, active crosswalks, and smart lighting.
Euro NCAP has added an assessment on how well vehicle design protects the safety of vulnerable road users. Including this sort of an assessment with ITS and other emerging technologies will help ensure vehicle technologies are designed to protect both vehicle occupants and other roadway users, especially the vulnerable road users who currently account for more than half of all road fatalities.
New driver assistance features such as auto lane-keeping can help with this challenge. This measure relies on machine-readable lines, requiring targeted expenditure to make a widespread, sustainable safety impact. And a true holistic approach will be realized when these enhancements can also transcend to personal devices, wearables, and micromobility modes, such as scooters and bikes (electric and non-electric).
A systematic approach requires additional responsibility for vehicle owners—to ensure that all vehicle safety features/systems are functioning correctly in relation to the system infrastructure, rather than simply making sure that the vehicle is “roadworthy” on its own. There is also a need for overall system review so that the incremental benefits and associated impact can be understood; as more vehicles include added safety features, this review can lead to an understanding of how continuous improvement impacts overall system safety.