Autonomous vehicles promise a transportation future that is safer and more efficient than ever before through the use of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and increased connectivity between vehicles, infrastructure and pedestrians. The European Commission estimates that human error is the driving factor in 95% of road traffic accidents so the sooner autonomous vehicles arrive the better if the EU’s goal of zero road deaths by 2050 is to be met.
Level 4 autonomy is a major step towards this safer future, and Europe wants to be first when it comes to getting level 4 vehicles onto the roads. In this article we’ll examine the current autonomous vehicle situation in Europe as well as the steps that need to be taken to make level 4 autonomy a reality.
Autonomous vehicles require the marriage of hardware and software working in harmony to run a vehicle’s controls and allow it to interact with the world around it. As it currently stands, level 4 autonomous vehicles are few in number and operate under carefully monitored testing conditions. Level 4 vehicles are currently being tested on public roads in the UK and Detroit, while testing is set to begin this year in the German cities of Darmstadt and Offenbach using 15 NIO ES8 electric SUVs equipped with Intel’s Mobileye technology.
New modes of transport require new laws to govern them. To that end, the EU has issued a revamped set of rules known as the General Safety Regulations (GSR). These rules cover more than just autonomous vehicles, and include provisions on speed assistance systems, and data logging systems which can record information about forces experienced in a crash.
Automakers such as Tesla and Mercedes-Benz have been rolling out level 3 autonomous driving systems but level 4 systems remain experimental. To ensure public safety, the EU will initially limit sales of level 4-equipped vehicles to 1500 units per model until a review is conducted after two years. The new EU rules govern issues such as cyber security, testing methods, data recording and incident reporting.
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Level 4 vehicles can complete entire journeys under specific circumstances such as travelling on predetermined geofenced routes during favourable weather conditions. Level 4 vehicles possess a high degree of autonomy, though human intervention may still be required. Hardware for this intervention like a steering wheel and gas and brake pedals will still be included as part of a level 4 vehicle’s standard equipment.
Despite the EU’s desire to be first to have autonomous vehicles on the road, Japan may just take that particular accolade. Back in December 2022 Japanese legislators voted to allow a limited number of level 4 autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads for transit and delivery purposes. The vehicles are set to launch in April 2023 and the government hopes to eventually use them for self-driving bus services and automated delivery.
Over the next few years Saudi Arabia plans to build a brand new smart city known as Neom where residents will rely on level 4 autonomous vehicles to get them where they need to go.
In addition to the vehicles themselves and the laws to govern them, transport infrastructure will need to be upgraded before Europe is ready to make the jump to level 4 autonomous vehicles. Road networks will incorporate connectivity more than ever before with funding coming from governments and equipment suppliers. It’s an enormous task but one that must be achieved to get level 4 vehicles on the road and meet the EU’s ambitious targets. Level 4 autonomous vehicles aren’t a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ with level 4 vehicles already testing on roads in the UK.
The 3rd annual ICA Summit is set for May 15th and 16th at the Steigenberger Hotel Bad Homburg in Frankfurt, Germany. Building on the first and second editions, the agenda for the 2023 ICA Summit is the most comprehensive yet. More information on becoming a speaker is available here, while sponsorship opportunities are available here.