Entering the field of autonomous driving - self-driving vehicles - is the next step in Volvo Car Corporation's development of the world's safest cars. "Autonomous driving has potential for improving road safety, traffic flow and fuel economy. To make this happen it is important to avoid a patchwork of various state regulations," stated Peter Mertens, Senior Vice President, Research and Development of Volvo Car Corporation, at a seminar in Washington, D.C., yesterday.
The seminar "Policy Implications of Autonomous Vehicles," which was arranged by the Embassy of Sweden and Volvo Car Corporation, focused on the policy opportunities and challenges of autonomous vehicles.
"Volvo Car Corporation aims to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving by moving beyond concepts and pioneering technologies that will reach the customers. We already have several driving assistance systems in the pipeline. But the legal situation for this technology still remains unclear," said Peter Mertens, adding: "We want to address this by supporting efforts to legalize testing of autonomous systems as well as initiating a constructive co-operation with policymakers."
Concern about legal patchwork
Peter Mertens expressed Volvo Car Corporation's concern that a state-by-state approach in the United States could lead to a patchwork of different laws and regulations.
"It is important that the U.S. Government underlines that regulation of motor vehicle safety systems and components is their jurisdiction. NHTSA research on the issues associated with autonomous vehicles could be the first step toward adoption of performance ratings on technology for autonomous driving," he said. "It is also crucial that state legislation doesn't restrict the use of active safety and support systems. They should be explicitly excluded from the definition of autonomous driving," Peter Mertens added.
Autonomous systems ready in 2014
Volvo Car Corporation is already spearheading the development of innovative safety technologies that help drivers avoid accidents.
The first focus areas in the development of autonomous systems are slow-moving queues and, in a longer perspective, road trains on motorways and fully autonomous vehicles. A system for traffic jam assistance will be introduced already in 2014.
"Allowing the car to act automatically is crucial when moving towards our vision that future cars will not crash at all. Our present systems for auto braking, lane keeping aid and adaptive cruise control could be described as the first steps. Now, we are moving towards technologies with a higher degree of autonomous driving in normal traffic situations," said Peter Mertens.
Benefits for society and drivers
On top of improved safety, the technology offers several advantages:
"The average driver spends about 250 hours commuting every year. We believe that being able to use the time more efficiently will benefit both the individual and the society," stated Peter Mertens.