Keith Crain, in his Automotive News and Crain's Detroit Business columns, has raised thought-provoking questions confronting the legal and insurance professions as more automated vehicles take to the roads.
It was with those questions in mind that Michigan in 2016 adopted pioneering legislation to support safe operation of automated vehicles on its roads. Specific to Crain's points, one bill created the Michigan Council on Future Mobility, comprising 21 governor-appointed industry, academic and government leaders to draft policy recommendations on these fronts.
This was forward thinking. A survey by AAA found 75 percent of Americans wary of self-driving vehicles. That underscores the need for the council and its robust discussions.
Consider examples of automated (vs. truly autonomous) technology in use. Vehicle manufacturers are increasingly adding safety features such as adaptive cruise control to moderate speeds, lane integrity to alert drowsy motorists when their vehicles stray and automatic braking. The gains in safety are showing as these technologies are added to conventional vehicles. In addition, driverless shuttles are being used in specific settings for distinct purposes. As one of Crain's columns observed, real estate company Bedrock is using a driverless shuttle to move its employees around downtown Detroit.
So what does this mean? The May Mobility shuttle travels slower than 25 mph along a carefully mapped, fixed route in downtown. In fact, during a demonstration run in conjunction with the service unveiling, the vehicles traveled approximately 15 to 18 mph. Further, the automated driving system has multiple sensors, which, in combination with the mapped route, establish where the vehicle is and what is around it with multiple layers of safeguards. Think belts and suspenders. In addition, the shuttle has an onboard human operator to take control as well as a home base constantly monitoring its movements.
This is very different from the practices in some tragic crashes in the headlines. In those crashes, human operators were inattentive or excessively confident in technology, which could not satisfy the demands of the situation. These situations will require much more testing and refinement. For such testing on public roads, Michigan law requires automated vehicles to have a human operator ready to exercise control at all times, either in the vehicle or remotely. And, failing human control, the vehicle must be able on its own to achieve a minimal risk condition.
As highlighted in the mobility council's 2018 annual report, Michigan leads the nation in creating an environment to develop technologies associated with automated vehicles. Most importantly, the state is engaged in a public-private partnership with Continental Automotive Systems to create a hyperaccurate, high-definition map of roadways using state vehicles to gather data. Creating this map database is crucial for the safe testing and development of these vehicles.
Finally, the council recognizes the human challenges and tragedy wrought by current motoring. NHTSA records 35,000 to 40,000 deaths on America's roads each year, again, the vast majority of which involve human error. Further, the council acknowledges mobility concerns of elderly people and those with disabilities, some of our most vulnerable travelers who struggle without safe and reliable transportation options. Yes, we must be careful in the testing and deployment of new technologies, but we must maintain a laserlike focus on very real and significant human needs.