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By Mark Richardson

Whether we like it or not, driverless cars are coming. But how will they change our roads? Will commuting be simpler, with no lights or traffic jams because cars will be communicating directly to each other? Or will traffic be heavier as empty cars circle through town on their way to collect passengers?

No doubt there will be profound challenges for road users as new vehicles become more and more automated—including the contentious privacy issues surrounding personal data of owners/passengers that may be stored in cars.

“A huge question mark hangs over this transition period, and nobody’s really got the answer to how we’re going to manage this,” says Ian Jack, Managing director of communications and government relations for CAA National.

“I think the technology will be there in five years, but humans and infrastructure need to catch up—and that’s going to take more time.”

On the official scale of vehicle autonomy, with Level One being a car with basic cruise control and Level Five being a car with no input whatsoever required of the driver (not even a steering wheel), some production cars have now advanced to Level Three. They can automatically maintain the speed of traffic, brake themselves in an emergency, steer themselves within their lane and even change lanes safely with the touch of a button.

Most researchers believe the most fallible component of any drive is the driver; that computers can be taught to see the road and respond to traffic situations far more consistently than any human. “All the studies that we’ve seen have shown there will be a major reduction in collisions—and therefore fatalities—when the fleet is fully autonomous.  That’s why we’re very supportive of the development of autonomous vehicles,” Jack explains.

“But it’s very important that vehicle manufacturers and policy makers keep in mind the human dimension of driving, as well as the implications for personal privacy. That is, all the data collection that will be required to make autonomous vehicles function properly.”

Jack recently addressed the Canadian Senate on behalf of CAA to warn of the potential for improper use of driver data. He told lawmakers that many in the technology sector believe a single vehicle will soon generate 1 GB of data per second. He went on to describe to the Transport and Communications Committee how a 2015 Tesla report stated that the car company collected 780 million miles of driving data in the previous 18 months—and it now adds another million miles every 10 hours.

“CAA has long held that vehicle owners should be informed about what data is being collected, and be able within reasonable limits to choose with whom they share it,” Jack says. “It must not be a take-it-or-leave-it approach, where the benefits of in-car technology outweigh an owner’s right to privacy.”

There’s no doubt the road ahead will be exciting, with many advantages for safer driving and more accessible transportation. But there will be bumps along the way as we work to find solutions for a future that is fast approaching.

caa.ca/AVs



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