In many ways, 2018 proved to be a challenging year for the development of CAVs. From high profile accidents to the curtain coming down on Congress’ first attempt at federal legislation for driverless cars in the US, the year ended with less of a sense of optimism than it began. It seems no coincidence then that some of the biggest players in the CAV sector, including GM, Toyota and Waymo, announced at January’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, that they had joined a new partnership: Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, or PAVE. It’s stated aim; “to inform and educate the public and policy makers on the facts regarding driverless vehicles so that they can fully participate in shaping the future of our roads and highways.“1
In this blog, we consider some of the difficulties faced by the industry in 2018, current public perception of driverless cars, and how PAVE hopes that education will allow the potential of driverless cars to be unlocked.
A number of companies developing driverless cars suffered high profile accidents in 2018:
- Tesla had several cars involved in accidents across California and Utah, including a driver fatality in March when a Model X crashed into a motorway barrier;
- Apple had one of its vehicles rear-ended when merging onto a freeway in California; and
- an Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian near Phoenix in Arizona.
These incidents, in particular the pedestrian fatality in Arizona (the first of its kind involving a driverless car), courted a lot of press attention. Uber’s response was to immediately halt all on-road testing. It did not resume on-road testing (in Pittsburgh as opposed to Phoenix) until December 2018, and then only in a much reduced form; navigating a one mile loop at a top speed of 25 mph hour.
Failure to pass Federal legislation
While not the only factor, these safety incidents undoubtedly had a bearing on Congress’ first attempt at federal legislation for driverless cars (the AV START Act) failing to proceed to a vote in the Senate before the end of year recess. As previously reported (please see the link here), a number of Senators and safety organisations raised concerns regarding minimum safety standards for driverless cars.
Many politicians and industry stakeholders have expressed frustration over the inability to pass the AV Start Act; citing it as a major missed opportunity and a blow to the US’s ambitions to establish a global leadership position in this field. PAVE member Toyota’s director of technology and innovation policy, Hilary Cain, has gone so far as to suggest that “will look back on this years from now and shake our collective heads over how Congress failed to get out ahead of this and establish a federal framework for this emerging technology.”2
Public perception stalling?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these safety incidents also appear to have had a negative effect on consumer attitudes towards driverless cars. Deloitte’s 2019 Global Automotive Consumer Study3 found that for US consumers:
- 65% felt that media reports of accidents involving driverless cars had made them more cautious of the technology;
- 50% did not think that driverless cars would be safe (up from 47% in 2018); and
- 56% want significant government oversight in the development of driverless cars.
Deloitte’s is not the only report which may make troubling reading for industry stakeholders. In May 2018, the “Cox Automotive Evolution of Mobility Study: Autonomous Vehicles”4 found that, while consumer awareness of CAVs in the US had increased from 2016, the number of people who believed the roads would be safer if all vehicles were fully autonomous had declined by 18%.
Partners for Automated Vehicle Education
It is in this context that PAVE, a US-based coalition of auto manufacturers, tech companies, insurance firms and advisory groups, has come together. Existing members include VW, Daimler, Cruise, Intel, SAE International, Munich RE, National Federation of the Blind and the US Chamber of Commerce.
PAVE believes that in order to fully realize the benefits of driverless technology, policymakers and the public need factual information about the present and future state of the technology and its potential benefits. It is difficult to disagree with this sentiment; a number of the accidents involving driverless cars to date indicate a degree of misunderstanding and/or misinformation regarding the capability of existing automated vehicle technology.
PAVE hopes to achieve its aim through a variety of means including:
- an educational website and social media channels;
- “hands-on” public demonstrations;
- educational toolkits for auto dealers; and
- policy-maker workshops.
Notably, PAVE is at pains to stress that it is not a lobbying organisation – “PAVE’s goal is purely educational: the coalition does not advocate for a particular technology or for specific public policies“.5 However, given the vested interest that many of its members have in the development of driverless technology, the line between education and lobbying could prove to be a fine one.
PAVE is by no means the only industry collective of companies operating in the CAV space. However, its counts a heavyweight line up of founding members. If its efforts are successful, it would be no surprise to see that line up grow.
- The PAVE website.
- Reported by Chris Teale, Federal AV legislation to go no further in Congress, Smart Cities Dive dated 21 December 2018 (available here).
- Available here.
- Available here.
- The PAVE website – ‘About’ section.