Will your Next Car be Self-Driving

Some pundits suggest that private ownership of autonomous (self-driving) cars is right around the corner. But that’s not the conclusion of Bern Grush, a systems engineer, futurist and the author of a recently published study on the subject.  He suggests that before they begin to be purchased in large numbers by private individuals, autonomous vehicles will first find their place with taxi and taxi-substitute companies like Uber and Lyft and seriously impact public bus services.  Large-scale private ownership of self-driving vehicles won’t occur until the late 2020s at the earliest, according to the study.

Recent research by Goldman Sachs Group has found less than 10 per cent of travel in North America is currently taken in non-personally owned vehicles, but the personal transport industry should get ready for a change. Grush says that by 2030, that percentage may climb to 25 per cent or higher as more people turn to robo-taxis, micro-transit and ride sharing. Why? His report claims automation will make these systems more reliable and far cheaper than today's taxi and bus services. Going further, the report contends ridesharing will be less expensive than personal car ownership for an increasing number of consumers. Improvements in vehicle automation, combined with a sharing economy, will vastly expand the robo-taxi and micro-transit juggernaut being readied by providers such as Uber, Lyft and Google's Waymo.

"We saw what happened with the town council in Innisfil (Ontario, Canada), which contracted with Uber rather than investing in a traditional bus system,” Grush said.  “This type of disruption will spread to other municipalities. Once these commercial providers begin to automate their fleets, their role in public transit and goods movement will accelerate."

Despite predictions that ridesharing in self-driving cars is imminent, the report has identified many barriers to getting people out of their personal cars and into robo-shuttles or robo-taxis. These include the safety concern of having young children in a car seat; being disabled and traveling with assistive gear; driving with a pet; and the fear that an automated car won't take a passenger everywhere she or he wants to go.  Grush calls this "access anxiety.” As these barriers are dealt with, the need for personal vehicles, as well as non-automated taxis and buses, will diminish dramatically over 15 years, the report "Ontario Must Prepare for Vehicle Automation: How Skilled Governance Can Influence its Outcome” said.

Right now, there is a lot of hype surrounding fully automated vehicles that can operate without a driver in any imaginable circumstance. Due to many hurdles, Grush does not anticipate this type of autonomous vehicle until well after 2050, when the technical issues of having driverless vehicles operate in every possible condition will have been addressed.

Grush encourages governments to prepare for this future by determining now how to influence the role fleets of shared AVs will have in cities and towns. The key to harnessing this technology is for governments and the private sector to work together to implement a regulatory system that will enhance mobility for all, the report said. Grush’s concept, the Harmonization Management System (HMS), would provide the digital tools to incorporate a subsidy and pricing system, and optimize the distribution and social performance of commercial fleets. 


Cars Talking to Cars Is Next Safety Wave

If you want to save American consumers some gasoline, invent something that will prevent cars from crashing into each other. According to Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI) 2010 Urban Mobility Report, traffic congestion wastes nearly 3.9 billion gallons of fuel annually. That costs the average commuter an additional 49 hours spent sitting in traffic, and the extra 39 gallons of gas (worth $1,112) per driver that idle time requires. Leading factors in traffic delays are caused by accidents, breakdowns and road debris, TTI says, so if you get rid of accidents and you communicate more rapidly in the event of vehicle breakdown, you will save the country billions of gallons of gas. The good news is that the industry is working on the problem, and one of the solutions is to enable cars to communicate with one another while they are sharing the road.

We recently had the opportunity to participate in an event sponsored by Ford Motor Company that demonstrated how intelligent vehicles that wirelessly talk to each other could be effective in reducing crashes. Ford built functioning prototypes of intelligent vehicles and took the show on the road to exhibit the value of the technology. In cars so equipped, it was immediately obvious that the technology could have far-reaching benefits, and safety experts agree. An October 2010 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the potential safety payback of vehicle-to-vehicle communication could help in as many as 4.3 million police-reported light-vehicle crashes annually. That’s approximately 81 percent of all light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers. You can see why Ford is so gung ho about the future of intelligent vehicles.

“Intelligent vehicles are the next frontier of collision avoidance innovations that could revolutionize the driving experience and hold the potential of helping reduce many crashes,” says Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering.

Ford’s vehicle communications technology allows vehicles to talk wirelessly with one another using advanced Wi-Fi signals for dedicated short-range communications on a secured channel allocated by the Federal Communications Commission. Unlike radar-based collision-avoidance features, which identify hazards within a direct line of sight, the Wi-Fi-based radio system allows full-range, 360-degree detection of potentially dangerous situations, even when a driver’s vision of the other vehicle(s) is obstructed. Cars that talk to the other cars can sense their presence around a curve, over a hill or behind a wall, even when you can’t see them from the driver’s seat.

Because of this critical aspect of the intelligent cars system, a driver could be alerted if her vehicle is on path to collide with another vehicle at an intersection, when a vehicle ahead stops or slows suddenly, or when traffic changes on a busy highway. The systems could also warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes or approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.

Preventing deaths and injuries is, of course, the greatest benefit of the system, but the other big plus is the fuel- and time-saving. By reducing crashes, intelligent vehicles could ease traffic delays. A network of intelligent vehicles and infrastructure could process real-time traffic and road information to allow drivers to choose less congested routes.

“We are not far from the day when vehicles will operate like mobile devices with four wheels, constantly exchanging information and communicating with our environment to do things such as shorten commute times, improve fuel economy and generally help us more easily navigate life on the road,” says Paul Mascarenas, vice president and chief technical officer of of Ford Research and Innovation. “A smart network of intelligent vehicles has the potential to benefit drivers in many ways.”

Aging Drivers Cause Concern

Millions of Americans have a loved one over the age of 70. With one in five Americans caring for an older relative, the number of adults concerned about their parents’ driving abilities is on the rise. According to a new survey conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and The Hartford, one out of 10 adults is worried about their elderly family members being on the road.

The key question that has to be asked: When do you pull the keys? It is not an issue to take lightly. Today, the automobile has become so ingrained in our culture that taking away a person’s ability to drive severely hampers his or her opportunity to interact with others and provide themselves with necessities like food. At the same time, continuing to give driving privileges to a person whose driving skills have significantly deteriorated can have tragic consequences. Simply discussing driving issues with a close relative can be stressful and contentious.

“We understand that talking to a parent about their driving can be very difficult,” said Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist at The Hartford. “If you’re worried, you should find out if your concerns are valid. Learn the warning signs, get in the car and observe the older driver. Once you get the facts and educate yourself about the resources available, you will be in a better position to help.”

Red flags that point to waning driving ability may vary. Some of the less serious issues may be resolved by changing driving behavior or improving physical fitness, while the more serious behaviors may require immediate action -- like telling your loved one that they can never drive again.

“Making a single minor driving mistake doesn’t mean that a person needs to stop driving,” says Lisa D’Ambrosio, a research scientist at MIT AgeLab. “What families need to do is look for patterns of warning signs and for an increase in frequency and severity of the warning signs.”

Here are 20 key warning signs of deteriorating driving skills, ranked from minor to serious:

  • Feels less confident while driving
  • Has difficulty turning to see when backing up
  • Easily distracted while driving
  • Honked at by other drivers on the road
  • Hits curbs often
  • Scrapes or dents car, mailbox or garage
  • Experiences increased agitation or irritation while driving
  • Fails to notice traffic signs or important activity on the side of the road
  • Has trouble navigating turns
  • Uses bad judgment when making left turns
  • Does not respond to unexpected situations quickly enough
  • Moves into wrong lane or has difficulty maintaining lane position
  • Gets confused at exits
  • Has been ticketed or given warnings for moving violations
  • Gets lost in familiar places
  • Has been involved in a car accident
  • Stops in traffic for no apparent reason

If someone in your family exhibits some of these behaviors -- especially those on the lower, more severe end of the scale -- you need to come to terms with the issue before a tragedy occurs. To help families prepare for and initiate thoughtful conversations with older drivers, AARP, The Hartford and MIT AgeLab teamed up to produce We Need to Talk, a free course that helps family members to understand the emotional connection to driving, observe their loved ones’ driving skills and plan the conversation.

“Taking time to prepare can alleviate these concerns and help initiate a thoughtful, positive conversation,” said Julie Lee, director of the AARP Driver Safety Program. “We Need to Talk helps families think through who the right messenger is, when the right time to talk might be and provides some conversation-starters. It also covers how to design a transportation plan that provides the driver with alternatives for getting around.”

True Highway Heroes

Truck drivers who made a difference

America's professional truck drivers often get a bad rap in the media. They're portrayed as low-brow ruffians who hog the road, abuse speed in both senses of the word and generally make trouble for those who pilot cars. How often have the TV or movies presented a crazed trucker bent on forcing some poor, innocent car driver off the road? Like many stereotypes, that picture of the professional truck driver is way off the mark. Those who do a great deal of cross-country driving recognize that truckers, as a group, are the most courteous drivers on the road. Just offer him the benefit of a turn signal and acknowledge the fact that his vehicle is bigger and harder to handle than a passenger car, and the average trucker will go out of the way to give you the benefit of the doubt. In the course of the hundreds of thousands of miles they drive each year, many truckers are given the chance to be more than just courteous. In emergency situations, professional drivers often rise to the occasion by performing lifesaving feats. The reports abound from all across the nation, and what follows are the stories of six professional truck drivers who risked their own lives to help others. These brave men have been selected as finalists for the 1999 Goodyear North America Highway Hero Award, the trucking industry's most prestigious award for heroism.

Quick Thinking Saves Two

On June 22, Terry Harvey of Salt Lick, Kentucky, and Floyd Anthony Miller of Irvine, Kentucky, who were driving separate rigs, came across a fiery accident involving a Jeep and a sedan on Kentucky's Mountain Parkway. The quick-thinking men broke out the back window of the upside-down Jeep and used a knife to free the driver from his seatbelt. Then they used an air mattress in the back of the Jeep to drag the 275-pound driver to safety. At the same time the driver of the sedan was trapped in his wrecked vehicle, and the fire from the Jeep spread dangerously close, threatening his life. As bystanders stood at a distance, fearing an explosion, Harvey and Miller used a nylon strap connected to Harvey's truck to pull the sedan out of harm's way. Soon afterward, the blaze reached the Jeep's gas tank, causing a fireball that engulfed the area where the sedan had been located. Both drivers survived the accident. Harvey drives for American Freightways Inc. of Lexington, and Miller drives for Kentucky Petroleum Supply of Winchester.

When Extinguishers Failed

In the early morning hours of April 9 on Interstate 95 in Virginia, Morris Holley of Baltimore witnessed a vehicle slam into the rear of another vehicle, overturn and catch fire. Running from his rig, he tried to extinguish the blaze himself, and, when his efforts failed, he radioed for other truck drivers to help. The combined power of several truckers' extinguishers were unable to overcome the gasoline-fed inferno, and some bystanders, fearing an explosion, began to back away from the scene. This, despite the fact that an unconscious woman lay trapped inside the car. That's when Ronald McKee of Middletown, New Jersey, picked up a spent extinguisher, broke out the car's rear window and, braving the fire, dragged the woman to safety. Literally within seconds of McKee's dramatic rescue, the car exploded. Holley, McKee and other drivers tended to the crash victim until rescue crews arrived, and the woman survived her ordeal. Holley drives for Swift Transportation Inc. of Richmond, Virginia, and McKee drives for Arctic Express of Hilliard, Ohio.

A Friend to the Rescue

On September 29, Jeffrey Wiles of Montpelier, Ohio, noticed a van weaving erratically through morning traffic on Route 15 near Bryan, Ohio. He contacted police by radio as he followed the van for more than a mile. At that point, the van veered off the road, struck a retaining wall and came to a stop on top of a gas main. The crash broke off the top of the gas main, and the vehicle was quickly engulfed in flames.

Wiles and two other motorists tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire, not knowing that a 20-pound propane tank and full 5-gallon gas container were in the back of the burning van. Then they broke out the rear window of the van and pulled the driver to safety.

Only after the driver was freed did Wiles realize that the victim was a friend he had worked with closely on the local EMS team. The driver, a diabetic, had gone into insulin shock while driving, but because of his buddy's fast action, he survived the accident.

Wiles drives for Bryan Truck Line in Montpelier.

First Aid Saves a Life

While picking up a load in Garwood, New Jersey, on February 7 of last year, John McDonald of Memphis, heard a commotion inside the building. A panicked worker ran up to McDonald and told him that a co-worker desperately needed help inside. Barrels weighing several hundred pounds had fallen, and one of them landed on the worker's leg, severing it. Despite the fact that other barrels stacked precariously nearby could have fallen on him at any moment, McDonald patiently applied a tourniquet to the victim's leg and consoled him until rescue crews arrived. Doctors were unable to reattach the victim's leg, but he did survive.

McDonald drives for M.S. Carriers Inc. in Memphis.

"We should all feel a little safer knowing there are courageous individuals like these six men on our roadways," said Mike Thomann, Goodyear's marketing director for commercial tires. "During the 17 years since the inception of the Highway Hero program, we have heard about hundreds of truck drivers who placed themselves in harm's way to save someone else, and we think it is important that they be recognized publicly."

On March 23, the drivers who performed these selfless acts will be introduced to the trucking industry at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, and one of the drivers will be named the Goodyear North America Highway Hero for 1999.

The six finalists were selected from 24 state and provincial winners throughout the United States and Canada. A panel of judges, consisting of members of the trucking and tire trade media, will select the 1999 Goodyear North America Highway Hero, who will receive a $20,000 savings bond. The other finalists will receive $5,000 savings bonds. All of the finalists receive a free trip to the Mid-America Trucking Show and, following the awards ceremony, a trip to Nashville.

--- John Jaha

Jaha writes frequently about trucks and the trucking industry.