In 2019, the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes were 36,096. Roughly 94% of serious crashes are still due to human error. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.) aims to change that—and AVs (autonomous vehicles) are a big part of that.

A little bit of history first. The NHTSA suggests there are five eras of safety. The period between 1950-2000 marked the advent of safety and convenience features such as cruise control, seat belts, and antilock brakes, while 2000-2010 brought more advanced safety features such as electronic stability control, blind spot detection, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. From here, safety innovation in our cars really sped up. From 2010-2016, we see the emergence of advanced driver assistance, coupled with rearview video systems, and automatic emergency braking.

Now, 2016-2025, we are entering the era of partially automated safety feature. Think lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, and self-park. NHTSA predicts after this era we will see the advent of fully automated safety features and highway autopilot.

The potential benefits of automated vehicles are clear: safer roads, economic and societal advantages, greater efficiency and convenience, and new mobility options. The reality is we have a lot of work to do to get there.

If you follow the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Automation Levels, we are currently somewhere around level 3—conditional automation. What will it take to get us to level 5—full automation? I would argue we need a good combination of the right regulations, cybersecurity, research, and a little bit of simulation to help propel this forward. Perhaps the United States also needs to look at research being done in other countries to drive AVs forward.

Let’s look at one example out of Germany that is currently underway to test safety. In the joint SET Level project, PROSTEP is working together with 19 partners from industry and academia on developing an appropriate simulation technology. Together the partners are developing a method that will allow critical traffic situations to be mapped digitally, thus enabling them to be simulated.

This project builds on the PEGASUS cooperative project, which was completed in May 2019 and focused primarily on the highway. SET Level takes this one step further by looking at flexibly automated and networked driving functions in urban areas. The project will run until August 2022 and has a total budget of more than 30 million euros and is receiving funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

During a virtual event, the partners used three simulated traffic scenarios to present the initial solutions. Here is what I like: This is using open standards and simulations tools, meaning once this project comes to an end, it can be used and developed by other companies and research institutes. The end result is reducing the future cost involved with approving automated vehicles.

Will we reach fully autonomous vehicles by 2025? We are speeding along in that direction, but there is still a lot of work yet to be done. The hope is once we do get there our roads will be a little bit safer.

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