Cars that are safe, self-driving and green: what’s not to like?

It is already forecast that within 15 years the majority of cars on the roads will be autonomous or ‘self-driving’. Michael Patwell says he finds the whole idea terrifically exciting.
Cars that are safe, self-driving and green: what’s not to like?

FUTURISTIC:The Volvo 360cisfully autonomous and electricconceptcar, and has been described as“a bedroomon wheels”

AS far back as 2015, it was reported that cars fitted with fully-fledged Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) systems were starting to arrive in showrooms.

Ford’s S-Max and Galaxy, and Volvo’s XC90 could come factory-fitted with camera and GPS-based systems that alert the driver to the current speed limit and help prevent him or her from exceeding it.

The recent announcement from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) that new cars, vans, lorries and buses sold in Europe will be fitted as standard with a range of new vehicle safety features, starting in 2022, is yet only a provisional EU deal on the legislation reached last week in Strasbourg.

Though the Commission are party to the agreement, the negotiated deal, however, is provisional and still subject to formal votes in the European Parliament and by EU Member States. Because of the imminent European elections, this process could still take several more months.

The new rules include requirements for new technologies, such as Automated Emergency Braking, which can detect pedestrians and cyclists, as well as over-ridable Intelligent Speed Assistance, to be fitted as standard for the first time.

New lorries will be required to have improved levels of ‘direct vision’ to give drivers a greater chance of seeing vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists around the vehicle.

A spokesperson for the ETSC has claimed that if the agreement is given the formal green light, it will prevent 25,000 deaths within 15 years of coming into force. With a forecast like that it is hard to quibble.

It is already forecast that within 15 years the majority of cars on the roads will be autonomous or ‘self-driving’. These are also known as robot, autonomous, or driverless cars. They will be capable of sensing the environment in which they are moving with little or no human input. They will combine a variety of sensors to perceive their surroundings, such as Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), radar, GPS, odometry (the use of data from motion sensors) and inertial measurement units. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage.

I must confess I find the whole idea terrifically exciting and my only worry is that as I approach my mid-70s I might not be around to experience it, though it is my best intention to do so.

I already drive a hybrid car while I wait and wait for a fully electric car that would suit my specification. That specification includes, especially, that it will have a range of at least 650 to 700 km.

I worked out by using the AA Route Planner that I live 312km from Upper O’Connell Street in Dublin and therefore I would like to be able to drive there, have the capacity to make my way around Dublin and drive home without having to recharge the batteries. Once such a vehicle becomes available I’ll be in the buyers’ queue — probably counting my cents to see if I can afford it.

The technology is already there and I have been informed that much of it is already built into many of the vehicles on the roads today, though it remains dormant. Even the Garmin sat nav that I have had for the last couple of years gives me a warning when I am approaching a change in the speed limit. Not only that but it also beeps at me when I approach a sharp bend or a series of them. Other cars on Irish roads today have the automatic braking system and adaptive cruise control. Straight-forward cruise control was once the high end of car technology but is now old hat.

Many of us are aware of the ups and downs of Tesla in the USA, but I’d prefer to stick with what is happening in Europe.

Volvo announced in December, 2017, that a select group of families had been chosen to test the company’s self-driving XC90, but the pilot programme then ground to a halt as the company was forced to provide additional documentation to the Swedish Transport Agency. Last September, Volvo announced it had been granted permission to begin real-world testing of its self-driving cars, boosting the company’s chances of meeting its stated goal of bringing the technology to market by 2021.

Apparently, the Transport Agency has revealed that self-driving cars will be allowed on motorways and streets in the Gothenburg area. They will not be allowed to exceed 60km/h when the self-driving features are activated and drivers are required to keep at least one hand on the wheel at all times. Operators of the autonomous vehicles must also undergo training provided by Volvo.

Then, the Swedish company unveiled the futuristic concept car, the Volvo 360c, a fully autonomous, electric vehicle with no steering wheel that has been described as “a bedroom on wheels” and “an office-bed-living room mashup”. I don’t know how far the development of that futuristic concept has advanced but it was reported a couple of months ago that Volvo has signed a deal to supply “tens of thousands” of self-driving cars to ride-sharing company Uber.

The whole problem of drink-driving may be edging its way to an end too with the development of the ‘breath alcohol ignition interlock device’ (IID). That technology is already highly developed and in use in some jurisdictions.

This is a breathalyser that requires the driver to blow into a mouthpiece on the device before starting the vehicle. If the resultant breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the programmed blood alcohol concentration for the relevant jurisdiction, the device prevents the engine from being started. The interlock device is located inside the vehicle, near the driver’s seat, directly connected to the engine’s ignition system.

An ignition interlock interrupts the signal from the ignition to the starter until a valid breath sample is provided that meets maximal alcohol guidelines in that jurisdiction. At that point, the vehicle can be started as normal.

At random times after the engine has been started, the IID will require another breath sample, referred to as a rolling re-test. Its purpose is to prevent someone other than the driver from providing a breath sample. If the sample isn’t provided, or exceeds the ignition interlock’s preset blood alcohol level, the device will log the event, warn the driver then start up an alarm in accordance with state regulations (e.g., lights flashing, horn honking) until the ignition is turned off, or a clean breath sample has been provided.

A common misconception is that interlock devices will simply turn off the engine if alcohol is detected; this would, however, create an unsafe driving situation and expose interlock manufacturers to considerable liability. Ignition interlock devices do not have an automatic engine shut off feature.

Courts in a number of jurisdictions are already authorised to order the fitting of such devices, especially for recidivist (repeat) offenders. Since July 1, 2018, judges in Belgium have been able to oblige high level or repeat drink-driving offenders to follow an alcohol interlock rehabilitation programme. Previously, this was a little-used legal option, but it will now become mandatory in most cases.

According to research in Belgium since the introduction of the new law, recidivism is reduced by 75% for those that install an alcohol interlock and follow the accompanying rehabilitation programme.

In France, the sanction has been only optional since 2011, and rarely used as a sanction, but the government have now announced that it will also make alcohol interlocks obligatory in cases of recidivism.

Fleet operators and bus and taxi firms now increasingly use interlocks, and buses and coaches in France are already required to be fitted with alcohol interlocks by law.

Austria already have a national rehabilitation programme for drink-drivers that offers the option for drivers to install an interlock in order to get back behind the wheel before the full term of a driving ban has expired. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, Poland and Sweden have introduced similar programmes as have the majority of US states. ETSC says the programmes have proven to be one of the most effective measures for tackling repeat drink-driving offences and should be extended across the European Union. I think it is only a matter of time before the measures are introduced here.

If there is a move to introduce the new laws here, I can hear, in my mind, the squeals and protests from some rural politicians, but with 5,000 deaths a year in the EU still caused by drink-driving, it seems to me that any measures that could reduce that number are justified.

On top of that, Member States have been asked to increase enforcement of the drink/drug driving laws and introduce rehabilitation programmes for drink and drug-driving offenders.

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