Driver assist whets appetite for automated vehicles, Auto Alliance says

Consumers are more likely to embrace the idea of self-driving vehicles if they own cars with driver-assist features and have experienced the technology’s safety advantages firsthand, according to preliminary results from a survey by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
People who drive cars with at least two semiautomated functions — such as adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping assistance or advanced emergency braking — have much more favorable attitudes toward autonomous vehicles (62 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable) than those who have none (43 percent to 54 percent).
Openness to self-driving technology is slightly higher (46 percent to 53 percent) for motorists with cars that have one driver-assist feature.
The findings were cited in prepared testimony by Alliance President Mitch Bainwol for Wednesday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
“As these technologies make their way into the national fleet, consumer acceptance will grow materially,” he said. “Effectively, these technologies have a multiplier impact: The more consumers experience driver assist systems, the more excited they become about the prospect of self-driving technologies.”
Automakers are pushing to create fertile policy conditions for developing robot vehicles because the technology — and business interest in it — is progressing much faster than expected a few years ago. Public perception can influence how lawmakers view autonomous vehicles and how much freedom to give companies to test on public roads.
Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., and Democrats Gary Peters of Michigan and Bill Nelson of Florida plan to introduce a bill soon that’s designed to provide software developers and automakers with more regulatory certainty so they can invest with confidence in artificial intelligence, sensors and communication systems.
Similar legislation is being drafted in the House.
Bainwol noted that autonomous vehicles offer the opportunity to significantly lower highway fatalities, which increased 7 percent in 2015 to 35,092 deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that final figures for 2016 will show a further 10 percent increase. The vast majority of automobile accidents are attributed to human behavior or error.
Regulatory recipe
Paul Lewis, vice president for policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, an influential think tank, said he doesn’t put much stock in polling about autonomous vehicles.
“It’s really hard for somebody to pass judgment on something that doesn’t exist. So, it’s incumbent on autonomous vehicle developers to demonstrate that their technology works and that it’s safe,” he told Automotive News.
More than two dozen technology and automotive companies, including Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Google, are testing self-driving vehicles or the software to control them.
Autonomous vehicle developers argue Washington needs to adapt the regulatory environment created for conventional vehicles to accommodate self-driving vehicles. A top industry priority is crafting rules that give the federal government pre-eminence in setting vehicle design, safety and performance standards so companies aren’t whipsawed by dozens of different requirements at the state level, making it more expensive to conduct r&d.
In 2017 alone, there have been 70 legislative proposals in 30 states that address self-driving cars, Bainwol said.
“We recognize and continue to support the important role states play in insurance, licensure, and traffic laws and enforcement,” he said. But Congress “should be aware that state and local laws could still unduly burden or restrict the use of self-driving vehicles in the future” without legislation that clearly delineates federal and state roles, he said.
The Eno Center last month endorsed NHTSA’s nonbinding guideline that the federal government take the lead on automated vehicle standards and software certification, saying it would give the public confidence that the technology is safe and facilitate commercial deployment.
Last week, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said her department would update NHTSA’s guidelines for federal, state and industry collaboration on automated vehicle development.
Bainwol also recommended that legislation governing self-driving vehicles expand the number and duration of exemptions to federal motor vehicle safety standards that NHTSA can grant.
Current regulations allow manufacturers to request exemptions for 2,500 to 10,000 vehicles so they can test and temporarily deploy vehicle designs on public roads.
Raising the caps would allow developers to deploy technology at the scale necessary to collect more real-world systems data that would speed development, as well as inform future regulatory decisions, automakers claim.
Bainwol urged Congress to direct NHTSA to update vehicle safety standards once new safety data on autonomous vehicles are collected.
That type of feedback loop from real-world vehicle operations is critical for innovation because self-driving poses a massive computational challenge with so many sensory inputs to detect and process almost instantaneously, said Rob Csongor, vice president of automotive for chipmaker Nvidia.
Nvidia, which specializes in computer graphics processors and artificial intelligence, has launched an open computing platform for automotive companies to use in development of self-driving vehicles. Special algorithms allow the system to quickly “learn” from experience and data collection, resulting in faster development of software to refine the system.
“Ideally, we would be able to test fleets across all states with their diverse driving conditions,” Csongor said. “A patchwork of different regulations in different regions hampers development and progress. It would be enormously beneficial to have a unified set of regulations across all states.”
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers each month asks 5,000 consumers about their automotive buying habits and attitudes about the industry. Based on experience, the percentages for the June survey are expected to hold through the month as more people are queried, spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said.
Fuente: Automotive News