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Driverless car regulation – rules of the autonomous road

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Projected to be road-ready in five to seven years, driverless cars are on the minds of politicians, policy makers and city planners around the world.

In Sweden, Minister of Infrastructure Tomas Eneroth is one politician who is opening up the dialogue around regulations for driverless cars. Recently, Minister Eneroth took a ride in one of the driverless buses that are being trialed near Ericsson headquarters in Kista, Sweden. Part of a collaborative effort between a number of partners, including Ericsson, the buses are being tested for six months on a 1.5km route, traveling at speeds up to 23km per hour.

Though it may be a small start, I smile each time I see the buses picking up passengers, making life a little easier (and more interesting) as people go about their daily tasks. But for experiments like this to progress beyond the suburbs of Stockholm, governments must define where driverless vehicles can be tested, and eventually, deployed in open traffic.

Driverless vehicles being trialed in Kista.

Public acceptance of driverless vehicles requires reassurance and responsibility

Our focus at Ericsson is to provide the transport industry with the next generation technology that enables vehicles to communicate safely and securely with each other, and their surroundings. But to get driverless vehicles on the road, we must win over the public.

In terms of building public trust, our partnership with Autoliv is focused on promoting consumer confidence in the safety of autonomous vehicles. Additionally, with public trials like the driverless buses in Kista, we are making sure the public gets to see the technology in action and try it out for themselves.

Of course, trust is diminished when unfortunate accidents happen. As I was drafting this article, I saw the news about the tragic event in Arizona, in which a woman lost her life after being struck by a driverless car being tested by Uber.

Ericsson is not involved in the Uber self-driving trials, or in any trials like those in Arizona, and I can’t speculate what went wrong. But, I do believe that, in the long run, driverless cars will actually make our roads safer, and help reduce the estimated 1.4 million traffic-related deaths occur each year around the world.

When accidents do happen, the question of responsibility comes up. New legislation proposed in Sweden would place legal responsibility for a driverless vehicle (or fleet of vehicles) on the owner, as the “virtual driver”, as opposed to a real driver. This is just one of the many complicated questions that politicians must address today.

Swedish Minister of Infrastructure Tomas Eneroth with the driverless vehicles in Kista.

Swedish Minister of Infrastructure Tomas Eneroth with the driverless buses in Kista

The global driverless car regulation race speeds up

While I do work with politicians and transport officials to create connected transport ecosystems, I don’t have much influence when it comes to policy making. Legislators are not usually engineers, which means they are often totally unaware of emerging technologies that need regulation.

To keep societies safe and economies strong, regulators around the world are scrambling to catch up as the rate of technological innovation increases. Minister Eneroth and his colleagues are working to reduce red tape and eliminate legislative grey areas, which should make it easier to test driverless cars on Swedish roads.

Though Sweden is moving fast with legislation for driverless cars, our Finnish neighbors may be a bit faster. Ericsson’s partner Scania recently decided to launch trials of their autonomous platoons of trucks in Finland, where the regulatory climate was more conducive to experimentation.

Scania is already trialing driverless vehicles on public roads

A platoon of Scania trucks (source: Scania)

This regulation race extends far beyond the Nordics. In December 2017, Beijing became the first Chinese city to allow tests of autonomous vehicles on city streets. Meanwhile, Chinese lawmakers are working to get nationwide regulations on the books in 2018, allowing tests of driverless vehicles on public roads across China.

Due in part to the lack of national regulations in their home country, a number Chinese firms have been testing their driverless vehicles in the US. Because of the divide between federal and state laws in America, a few states with permissive regulations (like Arizona) have been able to attract a lot of business related to testing driverless cars.

Driverless cars are just one part of the transport ecosystem

Just as regulators are breaking down barriers for testing driverless cars, we at Ericsson are breaking down the barriers between billions of connected devices (including cars) and millions of applications.

When it comes to driverless vehicle technology – we’re working on it. That includes my colleagues’ efforts integrating sensors with navigation systems, building cloud-based infrastructure for connected cars, and developing the vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication technology that will connect vehicles with the entire transport ecosystem.

Driverless cars are emerging alongside IoT solutions that allow us to re-model mobility, and redefine how transportation works. Now, politicians around the world are tasked with redefining regulation.

My colleagues and I see a future where connected cars are just part of a holistic transport landscape. Join us as we share that vision at the FT Future of the Car Summit and TU Automotive Detroit.

Want to know more about what Ericsson is doing in the connected vehicle space? Discover more about how we are allowing automakers and fleet owners to develop, deploy, secure and manage connected vehicle services worldwide.


Jenny Gustavsson

Written by Jenny Gustavsson

Jenny Gustavsson is a Solution Marketing Manager for IoT at Ericsson. For more than fifteen years she has been developing and driving strategic marketing, lead generation and account based marketing initiatives within the transport industry, with focus on the Internet of Things and solutions for smart cities.

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