Clueless Regulators Holding Back CAV Testing, Says TRL

One big challenge facing connected autonomous vehicle (CAV) testers is the number of road authority regulators “who haven’t got a clue”.

That’s the view of Camilla Fowler, head of automation at the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) currently leading the CAV trial Project Endeavor which has begun live testing in Oxford. The project claims to be the first real-world application of the BSI PAS1881 standard for public autonomous trials, authored by Fowler. The standard specifies the minimum requirements for safety cases for automated vehicle trials and development testing in the UK to demonstrate activities can be undertaken safely.

Yet, the challenges of making the trial portable to other locations are headed up by some road authorities inability to grasp the concept of AVs on the roads for which they are responsible. Fowler said: “One of the things that can create a challenge is that each of the different local and road authorities have different requirements. We have the code of practice that sits at the top of the chain with the requirements to ensure safety for CAV trials but then you have the road authority and differ across the country. You have some that have CAV-specific teams, good technical knowledge and a good appetite for CAV trials and testing. Then you have other authorities that, quite genuinely, haven’t got a clue what’s going on!

“They haven’t had any trials and testing, haven’t got any processes in place and have no technical knowledge in order to review a safety case to say ‘yes you can test within this remit’. So, how do you provide that assurance to stakeholders without them having to take on any liability?”

She suggested a way to solve this issue would be to take a different, more centralized, approach to CAVs than we have at the moment with the three cornerstones of automotive regulation. Fowler explained: “With driven vehicles, you have three elements of assurance – the vehicle with its MOT certificate, the driver with a recognized license and the infrastructure assured by the local authorities. With CAVs you are now bringing it together in one system. It is being explored on how can you certify this and to ensure that the system is safe? This is something that could be regulated and certified in a similar way to type approval we have at the moment.

“Then you have operational safety as when you take that automated vehicle and put it in a different environment and the risks may be slightly different. One vehicle in a crowded urban environment would face different challenges to another driving down a strategic road network. It’s this part of the safety that a road authority wants to know about in their area where they have a level of responsibility and that they are not facing an increased level of risk.”

Her Oxford project is focused on the two areas including safety assurance, in collaboration with BSI, and on remote operation, removing the safety driver from the vehicle altogether. She envisages this second autonomous feature to be the first to be adopted in a commercial sense. Fowler said: “This will happen first not in a public space but in a more controlled environment such as in a work environment to improve safety.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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