Is Canada Falling Behind on Self Driving Cars?

By Anonymous ; Posted Mar 03, 2018

This blog is the final installment of a three-part series on what the future of Autonomous Vehicles is likely to look like in Canada and around the world.



If you are a fan of the Netflix sci-fi series Black Mirror, you may remember the “Crocodile” episode of Season 2, where pizza was delivered in a driverless truck. (Spoiler alert: it ends badly.)



Driverless delivery became a real thing last summer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That’s where Domino’s Pizza and Ford started testing people-free pizza delivery.


In Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, Google’s Waymo has been conducting a pilot program with self-driving cars prowling the roads since April 2017. Waymo chose Chandler because it has mild weather, wide streets and few people walking.


These scenarios are the type of community tests that have to happen before autonomous vehicles become ubiquitous. Right now, experts can only offer educated guesses to the timeline and outcome of self-driving vehicle adoption.


Canada Lags Behind


Canada does not have national regulations on how the testing might roll out, however, our transportation minister says the government is working on it.


In an interview with CBC, Marc Garneau says, “From a regulatory point of view, we are running hard to keep up with this developing technology.”



Indeed, the federal government has set a budget of $7.3 million CND to develop AV regulations by next year. Our much-larger neighbours to the south have invested $200 million USD toward research, development and infrastructure to support the vehicles.


Perhaps more importantly, since many driving regulations and infrastructure changes happen at a provincial level, only Ontario has sketched out any type of legislation around them. Compare this to the U.S., where 21 states have prepared some type of AV legislation.


Our governments are not doing enough, says Sharon Bauer a lawyer in Toronto.


“All levels of government must start exploring the impact AVs will have on our roads,” Bauer says.


In January 2016, Ontario introduced Regulation 306/15, Pilot Project – Automated Vehicles. This regulation means companies can get a permit to test AVs on public roads but under strict conditions.


For example, self-driven vehicles must have steering wheels and pedals, and a driver must always be present. These types of strict regulations do not foster a research-friendly climate in Ontario when other jurisdictions are allowing AV testing with fewer restrictions.


Furthermore, early testing seems to indicate that having a steering wheel and pedals may actually reduce safety because an unengaged driver cannot instantly react to danger, and manually take evasive action.


The Change Coming


Right now, nearly 1.3 million people die in car accidents each year worldwide, that’s about 3,287 per day.


A 2007 Transport Canada study shows approximately 93 percent of all car accidents are due to human factors, so some logic indicates the more cars become autonomous the fewer accidents there will be. Injuries, calls to 9-1-1, ambulance rides and ER visits are some other factors that will also be affected by this.


However, there are other factors that could limit AVs’ ability to reduce crashes. We don’t yet know if adopting self-driving cars will increase or reduce the total number of cars on the road, and costs associated with that. The same goes for the amount of time the average person spends in a car. These factors have an impact on the number of collisions that occur.


History demonstrates we won’t simply switch from all self-driven cars to all-autonomous vehicles. The first “personal” automobile, the Ford Model T, led to mass automobile ownership but not overnight.


For several decades after its 1908 introduction, the transportation system was mixed between cars, horses, walking and bicycles. We don’t yet know what effect a combination of both types of vehicles driving on our roads will have.



Despite some uncertainty around exactly what proportion of collisions can be prevented by going driverless, it’s widely accepted that there will be a reduction. This brings up the question of what changes insurers need to make to prepare for the transition.


The Insurance Question


According to the Insurance Institute of Canada, auto insurance accounts for half of the premium revenue generated by the industry.


Insurers rely on historical data to calculate risk, but due to the newness of AVs, they lack data on the vehicles, so what exactly will happen to insurance premiums is still unknown.


One thing that is evident, if driver error no longer results in claims, the importance of assessing driver risk will now be replaced by the importance of assessing product risk.


Collisions in a post-driving world will most likely involve the malfunction of either a car’s hardware or its software. The places more responsibility on automakers and app designers than ever before. Also, insurance companies suggest that municipalities (and/or provinces) may be held accountable for any infrastructure that is not properly adapted for AV use.


Insurance itself may become something underwritten by the automakers. For example, Tesla has already speculated about providing its vehicles in a “package” price that includes all maintenance and insurance.


Ultimately, if safety improves with increased automation, as expected, lower premiums for all of us should be the result. Enhanced safety features in today’s vehicles have already had an impact. For example, Aviva Canada announced has been offering a 15 percent insurance discount for vehicles that have Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) since 2016.


We will likely see a more collaborative relationship between insurers, who need data, governments who are trying to build a regulatory framework, and AV manufacturers, who need the support of governments and insurance companies to achieve their desire ubiquity.




About the author: 


Bridget Brown


Bridget Brown is a Calgary-based writer. She runs Create That Communications, a marketing agency specializing in compelling storytelling. Bridget is an award-winning former broadcaster; she spent 15 years reporting and producing for stations across Canada.




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