Canada ill-prepared for autonomous vehicles: Senate committee

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OTTAWA, ON – Canada is ill-prepared for the arrival of autonomous and connected vehicles – even though driverless cars are already a reality, Canada’s Senate Committee on Transport and Communications has concluded.

The committee responded this week with 16 recommendations to help prepare for the technology to come, calling for such things as a national strategy and cybersecurity measures to maintain public safety and confidence.

“We are on the cusp of a transportation revolution, and Canada must be ready. Cities were ill-prepared when ride sharing came to Canada. We cannot afford to repeat this mistake,” said Senator Dennis Dawson, deputy chairman of the committee.

“It is not a matter of if, but when more sophisticate automated and connected vehicles will arrive on Canadian roads,” concludes the related Driving Change report, which paints pictures of computer-controlled cars weaving in and out of traffic, and even terrorists taking control of vehicles from afar.

And the committee notes that some experts believe self-driving transportation could take root in urban areas in as few as 10 to 15 years.

That would come with pros and cons. “With human error now causing the vast majority [about 94%] of traffic collisions, there is no doubt that automated and connected vehicles will save lives,” the report says. “However, these technologies also raise a number of concerns in terms of job losses, privacy, cybersecurity, urban sprawl and infrastructure. In particular, these vehicles collect a vast amount of data and could be the target of hackers who want to use the vehicles for nefarious purposes.”

Responding to the latter threat, the committee has called for “rigorous oversight” to protect personal information.

Noting the potential of commercial applications such as those in mining, farming, and forestry, Driving Change also references potential job losses for truck and courier service drivers, tow truck drivers, and more.

While the technology is advancing quickly, there is a nod to widespread commercial applications not changing overnight, quoting Wendy Doyle, co-chairwoman of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrator’s Automated Vehicles Working Group.

“If we look at the commercial industry, because of the complex task of moving those large loads it will take technology a long time to replace all the requirements a driver is required to do,” she told the committee during a presentation. “I mentioned earlier a few of the cargo securement and maintenance requirements on commercial vehicles. If the lights go out or brake issues happen, the human gets under and fixes that. That would still be an expectation because we still want to ensure they are safe vehicles on our roads, whether or not they are highly automated. There’s still a place for commercial drivers. The technology will be replacing a portion of the driving task. I believe it will be a ways before it will impact the work of commercial drivers. We also know there’s a shortage in commercial drivers as well, so that’s a benefit.”

“These new technologies hold great promise, but they do not come without risks. Canadians need assurance that their personal information will be protected,” said Senator Patricia Bovey, deputy chairwoman of the committee, as it released its recommendations.

Recommendations include:

  • Establishing a national strategy, model provincial policy, and working with the U.S. to ensure the vehicles work seamlessly in both countries.
  • Developing vehicle safety guidelines, identifying design aspects to be considered when developing, testing and deploying such vehicles on Canadian roads.
  • Setting aside the 5.9 gigahertz spectrum for connected vehicle uses.
  • Establishing cybersecurity guidance based on best practices, and offering advice on Original Equipment, replacement equipment and software updates.
  • Establishing a real-time “crisis connect network” to address cybersecurity issues.
  • Ensuring sectors such as the aftermarket and car rental companies continue to have access to the data they need to offer their services.
  • Increasing federal investments in research and development through the new Innovative and Intelligent Mobility Research Test Centre, ensuring the vehicles are tested in a mix of urban, rural, and cold environments.
  • Monitoring the impact of autonomous and connected vehicles on automobile insurance, infrastructure, and public transit.
  • Strengthening retraining, skills upgrading, and employment support for Canadians facing labour market disruption.
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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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