How automated driving will change our lives for the better

At the beginning of December, ACEA launched its automated driving roadmap. This landmark publication sets out the steps towards deployment and lists the required legislative changes. We should, however, not forget about the wider implications of this transformation. Because the impact of automation on society, and particularly how it will improve social inclusion and access to mobility for millions of Europeans, is something that is very close to my heart.

Message from ACEA's Director General – December 2019

All industry experts that I speak with agree that automated driving is a, if not the, major technological advancement that is changing how we travel and move goods – it is reshaping the future of mobility and transport in Europe as we speak. When fully integrated in the whole transport system and accompanied by the right supporting measures, automation is expected to make a major contribution to achieving some very important social goals as well.

Of course, there are different levels of automated driving, starting with technology that assists drivers in operating their vehicle and going up to levels that completely substitute the human driver by a system. But let’s leave technology and the remaining (regulatory) hurdles aside for a moment, and focus on how automation will change people’s lives for the better.

First of all, let me stress again that automated driving is a paradigm shift that will change the way we experience road travel and transport. As automation further develops in the future, we as drivers and our passengers will progressively be able to enjoy new activities, such as reading, working or using an electronic device.

Eventually, as vehicles will become fully autonomous, the driver will no longer be required as a fallback. This will provide even more room for innovation in terms of combining mobility with entertainment. Indeed, automation is all about increasing our freedom and comfort, by allowing drivers to perform other activities when automated systems are active.

Secondly, and most importantly in my view, automated vehicles will enhance access to mobility for millions of Europeans, by increasing the availability of passenger transport services while reducing the cost of moving around. This is especially valid in areas with low and dispersed demand, such as rural areas and suburbs, where the availability of professional drivers is typically low, or where bus routes may have disappeared over the years due to public spending cuts.

Furthermore, automation will offer access to mobility to people who are traditionally deprived of it, such as those with limited mobility and the elderly, who may be unable to drive themselves. For those people, automated vehicles will greatly improve social inclusion, as they provide them with increased access to healthcare, family and friends, work, city centres and remote locations.

Thirdly, automation makes a positive contribution to sustainable transport by offering new mobility solutions that can be integrated into a single Mobility as a Service (MaaS) ecosystem. Concretely this allows cities and regions to build a transport offer combining high-capacity public and private transport with individual solutions that respond to diverse and changing customer needs. Integrated mobility will help to deliver a truly user-centric, multi-modal offer of transport options.

The fourth major deliverable of automated driving is all about efficiency and the environment. Because automation will reduce traffic congestion and increase the efficiency of our transport system, contributing to a decrease in fuel consumption and emissions – thus also addressing climate change and improving air quality. When we look at commercial vehicles, automated driving is revolutionising the transport of goods.

With platooning, for example, trucks can be linked together into a convoy through advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and connectivity technology. The driver in the truck at the head of the platoon acts as the leader. This allows the following trucks to react and adapt to changes in the leader’s movement, with little to no action required from the drivers. And tomorrow’s trucks will be autonomous, transporting goods all over Europe without the need for drivers, providing shippers with a competitive advantage as well as reinventing the logistics structures of today.

Finally, automated driving will help to further improve safety on our roads. Indeed, automation is expected to greatly reduce the risk of human error in driving – which still is a major contributing factor in most accidents – thereby making an important contribution to the EU goal of zero road fatalities by 2050. Many of today’s active safety technologies (which prevent accidents from happening altogether or at least actively help the driver to reduce the impact) are already starting to prepare drivers and other road users for a future when vehicles will drive themselves.

These partially-automated vehicles are increasingly able to intervene in dangerous situations when the driver is not taking any action, or just not fast enough. The next generation of automated vehicles will have the ability to navigate without permanent supervision from the driver. In other words, no driver input will be needed during normal operation and these vehicles will have a highly reliable perception of their environment, being able to identify and prevent potential accidents before they can happen.

Now there is no question that automated vehicles are about to make road transport a whole lot smarter and more convenient for all of us. But before we get there, we need to work on the right enabling framework. That is also why ACEA has drawn up a check-list of rules and regulations that need to be put in place to make automated driving a reality. Likewise, our new roadmap also contains a timeline with the next steps that must be undertaken over the coming years in order to enable the deployment of automated vehicles on Europe’s roads.

To conclude, I strongly believe that automated driving holds great potential to improve road safety, enhance social inclusion by making transport more accessible, ease traffic congestion and reduce emissions – not to mention giving drivers more freedom and comfort.

But automation will also bring massive changes, so it is crucial to ensure that the whole of society is ready for this mobility transformation. What we must do now is to start raising awareness among citizens – as well as policymakers in the national capitals and Brussels – of what all this means for our everyday life.

Eric-Mark Huitema
Director General of ACEA

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