Self-driving cars are supposed to dramatically increase safety by eliminating human error. Ford, General Motors, and Toyota are teaming up to ensure they live up to that hype. The three automakers, along with SAE International, are forming the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium, focusing on self-driving car safety.
The consortium will work to develop industry-wide safety standards for autonomous cars, according to an SAE International press release. Its first project will be a "roadmap of priorities" that will include testing guidelines, as well as protocols for data sharing and how autonomous vehicles interact with other road users.
The self-driving car industry is in a Wild West state. Numerous companies including automakers, tech firms like Waymo and Uber, and smaller startups are working on tech to not only best the others' developments but also beat them to the market. Each has different methods, different plans for how to deploy self-driving cars, and different philosophies when it comes to the nuts and bolts hardware as well as software.
Yet few regulations govern autonomous vehicles. Little action has been taken at the federal level, leaving states to develop their own regulations. This patchwork of individual state rules could hinder the mass adoption of self-driving cars, as companies don't want to have to follow a different set of regulations for each state they operate in. Without clear safety standards, it's also hard to see how companies will win public trust.
The majority of respondents in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said that autonomous cars should be subject to stricter regulations than human-driven vehicles. Any standards or guidelines produced by the AVSC won't be a substitute for federal rules, but they will at least provide a way to compare different companies' autonomous-driving tech when it comes to safety. This isn't the first attempt by private entities to develop safety standards for self-driving cars independent of the government: AAA and Torc Robotics previously set out to develop their own safety criteria in an effort to build public trust in autonomous-driving tech.
The three automakers involved in the AVSC all have robust self-driving car development programs. Ford is testing cars in Miami and Washington, D.C. and plans to launch a production self-driving car aimed at ride-hailing and delivery services in 2021. General Motors' Cruise Automation division also tests cars on public roads and is set to double in size as GM redirects resources from other areas into autonomous-driving tech. Toyota hopes to develop both fully autonomous cars and a system called "Guardian" that works alongside human drivers.
All of those efforts will be wasted if people don't trust self-driving cars. A fatal crash in March 2018 involving an Uber self-driving car shows the technology still has a long way to go to meet lofty promises of safety. An industry-wide set of safety standards could at least be a step in the right direction.