EAST PENN AND WESTERN LEHIGH CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE
East Penn and Western Lehigh Chambers of Commerce held a seminar recently at Brookside Country Club regarding how driverless vehicles will impact local communities.
According to recent data, it is speculated driverless vehicles will be available to the consumer within the next decade.
The presentation focused on the current problems that larger vehicles – specifically, the increasingly-prevalent commercial vehicles such as tractor trailers – bring to our local community and how emerging driverless vehicle technology can remedy such issues.
Upper Macungie Chief of Police Edgardo A. Colón spoke first regarding the impact the trucking industry currently has on his community, and what his police force does to counteract the issues. Colón, who is also head of the Upper Macungie Good Neighbor Coalition, emphasized the increasing dangers of large trucks sharing the roads township residents use.
Using photos from real accidents within Upper Macungie Township, Colón highlighted the issues prevalent when large trucks are within the community. Prominent issues included truck drivers being rerouted through tiny commercial areas and losing their bearings, trucks striking bridges or becoming stuck, general road wear, larger accidents as well as many other issues.
Colón stressed his presentation was not meant to blame truckers for the incidents; rather, road problems become more complicated when larger trucks are present.
“We want safer roads,” Colón said. “We want to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities; we want to enhance officer safety.”
Colón noted by implementing new programs – such as adding 130 new street signs and adding a commercial vehicle inspection area off of Schantz Road – residential complaints have decreased. Additionally, Upper Macungie Township currently stays on the line or below when it comes to the average amount of monthly crashes in spite of ever-increasing traffic. Several officers are also being trained to inspect trucks. The programs, he noted, also have led to better relations with local residents and companies.
“There is something for everybody here,” Colón said. “We want to benefit everybody.”
George G. Kinney, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s director of transportation, spoke next on the impending arrival of driverless vehicles in our communities and how it will affect current policies. Currently, only 6 percent of communities nationally have considered the impacts of driverless vehicles, but Kinney notes the advent of autonomous cars will radically reshape our communities.
Vehicles are being equipped with technology including radar sensors, video cameras, short range Long-Term Evolution communications and GPS systems in order to make them driverless. Older vehicles can also be retrofitted to become driverless. While Kinney noted several issues – it currently costs around $30,000 to $50,000 to equip trucks with autonomous technology, plus the potential cyber security risks inherent – the benefits the technology could bring would be lifesaving.
“We have about 6 million accidents annually,” Kinney said. “Ninety-five percent of those accidents are basically human error.”
Equipping vehicles with driverless technology would significantly decrease accidents across the board. Kinney also noted federal government preemption would be necessary to make rules consistent within all states for driverless vehicles and liability policies would also need to be updated.
Finally, Andrew Roberts, strategic account director for Royal Truck & Equipment, Inc., discussed how his company’s “crash trucks” – attenuator vehicles designed to protect highway workers in the event of an accident – are being updated with driverless technology. By partnering with a military defense contractor, the group was able to adapt leader-follower automotive vehicle technology to their trucks. With this technology, a driverless vehicle mimics the moves the human-driven lead vehicle makes by picking up sensor information that the leader transmits. The human-driven leading vehicle serves as a controller for the fully autonomous secondary vehicle. Roberts noted that, while the technology of autonomous vehicles is rapidly advancing, public opinion still needs to catch up.
“It’s very complicated to try to get people to accept the idea of a vehicle that doesn’t have a driver in it sitting right next to you on the highway going 70 miles an hour,” Roberts said.
However, the lead-follower vehicle will serve as a “stepping stone” – something that can bridge the gap between a fully autonomous vehicle and traditional forms of driving.
The group is launching a test program in London of a self-driving crash attenuator truck in several weeks. The company is also developing other forms of technology, including a system to wake drivers if they doze off, to make roads safer.
Roberts projected that, by the end of this year, an autonomous vehicle would drive in a controlled setting – without a safety rider – while following a human controlled lead vehicle.
Currently, autonomous vehicles driving without a safety rider present are only allowed under testing purposes in the United States. “That would be a major step, and a huge step forward from an industry standpoint because it will be a legally viable and acceptable first step forward in terms of autonomous technology,” Roberts said.