Driverless cars may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but according to Dr Jean-Luc Di Paola-Galloni, co-chairman of the European Road Transport Advisory Council (ERTRAC), they could be on our roads in just four years’ time, and so the EU needs to regulate that.
What do we mean by automated cars, and why do we need them?
‘There are some functions of transport that don’t need to be done manually by drivers. Driving in a congested environment is not pleasant at all. If the vehicle can move (semi-) automatically, then this is much better. And it’s not just better in terms of comfort, it is in particular better in terms of safety and in terms of traffic management optimisation.’
One of the main justifications for automated cars is that they are safer, but how so?
‘The very first automated devices in the car industry were introduced because of safety. For example, you have an automated signal in the car if you forget to put your seatbelt on. And the European Commission has been involved in the eCall (where the car calls the emergency services after an accident) - this is very important because it has saved lives. Automation is the natural daughter of decades of safety research.
‘Automation will also reduce congestion. It will allow traffic to use lanes more effectively, and it will lead to substantial energy and fuel savings.’
There are already some test areas where automated systems are in place under controlled conditions, such as in La Rochelle, France or in Wimbledon, London, UK. What differences do you expect to see in the years to come?
‘The testing areas exist already as of now. Some are going to be announced and developed really in two or three years to come. We know that out of these tests we will get things that are working and things that are not working, as is always the case during tests. What will happen is that the successful technologies will be progressively spread from these test areas to other areas.’
When do you think that the technology will be widely available?
‘All the different experts, whether they come from the industry, whether they come from a more philosophical or societal background, will tell you that the very first proper automated car will be running within the next three years.’ ‘My hope is really that the consumer, the user will become beneficiary of these new aspects of integrated and more inclusive road mobility.’ Dr Jean-Luc di Paola-Galloni, co-chairman of ERTRAC and Vice-President of Valeo
‘My hope is really that the consumer, the user will become beneficiary of these new aspects of integrated and more inclusive road mobility.’
Dr Jean-Luc di Paola-Galloni, co-chairman of ERTRAC and Vice-President of Valeo
What is the role of ERTRAC in these automated transport systems, where cars will drive themselves?
‘We bring advice to the Commission on what the Commission should implement in the end as common research projects. We are now in the final process of delivering a roadmap to the Commission on this topic. And obviously to highlight that Europe should sustain the financial and research efforts of all the public, private, industrial and non-industrial stakeholders.
‘What we need the most now is a harmonisation of the different regulations across Europe.’
What about traffic grids, traffic management systems – how will the EU regulate and legislate for these?
‘This is exactly one of the issues that the roadmap highlights. The main question is what are the best connections within the (transport) grid – the technological dialogue between the car and the grid, the cars and the infrastructure, and between traffic management systems and the vehicles – in order to ensure the best possible outcome?’
What do you think is the biggest challenge that faces you in the coming years? And your main hopes?
‘For sure it’s all the harmonisation and standardisation work to be done. This is a clear challenge.
‘My hope is really that the consumer, the user, will become the beneficiary of these new aspects of integrated and more inclusive road mobility.’
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