Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications
 

THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day at 6:45 p.m., to continue its study on the regulatory and technical issues related to the deployment of connected and automated vehicles.

Senator Dennis Dawson (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Honourable senators, I call to order the meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications.

[English]

I would like to welcome our witness, Mr. Bernard Soriano, Deputy Director, California Department of Motor Vehicles, United States. He is appearing by video conference from Sacramento.

[Translation]

Thank you for being with us. I invite you to start your presentation. Afterwards, the senators will have questions.

[English]

But first, I want to repeat in front of everyone my excuse for having had technical glitches last time and not having been able to contact you, but we appreciate you giving us a second chance.

Bernard Soriano, Deputy Director, California Department of Motor Vehicles, United States: Thank you for having me. I’m sorry for the technical glitches a month ago, but I’m glad to be here.

Dear senators, good evening and thank you for the opportunity for California to provide comments on connected and automated vehicles.

California is at the forefront of this groundbreaking technology and is eager to share its experiences and lessons learned. The technology holds great promise not only in improved safety and increased mobility, but also in transforming society’s transportation systems. We are, collectively, on the cusp of a transportation revolution, much as the world transitioned over 100 years ago from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles.

In 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1298 which has since been codified in the California Vehicle Code, section 38750. This statute requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles, or the DMV, to adopt regulations allowing for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roadways. Moreover, the statute requires the regulations to include provisions that the DMV concludes are necessary to ensure the safe operation of autonomous vehicles.

Working with the United States Department of Transportation, or USDOT, and other stakeholders, the California Autonomous Vehicle Testing Regulations were completed in 2014. Those regulations became effective in September 2014 with Volkswagen/Audi receiving the first California autonomous vehicle permit. Currently, there are 43 companies approved for autonomous vehicle testing in California, with approximately 300 vehicles and 1,000 test drivers.

California is currently working on the next step: Modifying those testing regulations to allow for completely driverless testing and regulations for the public deployment of autonomous vehicles. We are in the midst of the formal rule-making process, having released the regulations for public comment two weeks ago, on October 11. The public comment period ends today, and our goal is to have these new regulations approved before year’s end.

To date, California’s regulatory efforts have been focused on passenger vehicles. The current regulations cover vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, or approximately 4,500 kilograms. In the future, California will begin exploring the unique questions and considerations associated with regulating commercial vehicles.

In addition, California is actively involved with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, or AAMVA, and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, or CCMTA, on the safe operation of autonomous vehicles. The USDOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, funded AAMVA’s Autonomous Vehicle Best Practices Working Group. The working group is chartered to develop a report to assist jurisdictions in governing and regulating autonomous and advanced driver assisted systems. California chairs that group, which consists of representatives from U.S. jurisdictions as well as two Canadian jurisdictions: British Columbia and Alberta.

Many countries are very interested in how California is preparing for this exciting and transformative technology. We have met with many foreign delegations and shared our approach to learning about autonomous vehicle technology.

While it is exciting, there are many unanswered questions. Working together we can, as a global community, help foster the safe deployment and development of this innovative technology.

Thank you, and I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.

The Chair: Thank you very much. We will go to questions now.

Senator Mercer: Thank you for your presentation. It was to the point.

We have some challenges in Canada that you don’t have in California. It snows here a lot. I understand it can rain in California — and sometimes rain pretty heavily, as we’ve seen in the news.

How have you been able to regulate the testing for different weather conditions?

Mr. Soriano: That’s a very good question. Our regulations allow for testing by manufacturers, and we do not place limits on where they can test their vehicles. Essentially, they can test anywhere in California.

Contrary to popular belief, it does snow in California. We get quite a bit of snow in northern California, particularly in the Lake Tahoe region. A number of companies are testing in the San Francisco Bay area and some have indicated they will expand their testing to other regions.

But as far as specifically having companies test in inclement weather, that is not something we are forcing upon the companies. We’re allowing the companies the freedom to do that as they develop the technology.

Of course, they can be testing in inclement weather in other jurisdictions as well, so they may not be restricted to just testing their products in California. For example, they could be testing some aspects of it in California and other aspects in Michigan or other parts of the country.

Essentially, we allow them to test anywhere they want in California.

Senator Mercer: I would expect, though, that while you allow them to test anywhere, when you look at the test results, you are paying some attention to those conditions where weather is maybe a factor.

Mr. Soriano: Yes. I should have noted that as part of our testing regulations, we require reporting, specifically any reporting of any crashes that have occurred, as well as an annual report of disengagements. Those crash reports total, since we have had the regulations in place, 46 crashes.

By and large, those crashes have been very minor. The typical scenario is that an autonomous vehicle is approaching an intersection, and it comes to a complete stop at a red light before making a right-hand turn. The vehicle behind the autonomous vehicle hits it at a very low speed, somewhere in the neighbourhood of about 1 to 5 miles per hour. That highlights the need for us as a society to be educated about how these vehicles behave on the roadways. Essentially, the vehicles follow all of the traffic laws, and so they will come to a complete stop. As they approach an intersection, if the light turns yellow, it will slow down in anticipate of the light turning red. That’s contrary to how most people behave; when they see the light turn yellow, they accelerate through the intersection. So we have seen quite a bit of rear collisions on the autonomous vehicle.

Senator Mercer: I guess it’s good news that they follow the traffic laws, unlike the rest of us. Thank you.

Senator Bovey: Thank you very much. I’m glad we were able to catch up with you, having missed you those few weeks ago.

Several of us, a couple of weeks ago, had the opportunity to be in California to take a look at some of the work being done. I have to tell you I found everything very impressive. It answered some questions and raised others. Certainly the work being done is being looked at by many.

I’m interested in what you said about the working group developing a report to assist jurisdictions in governing and regulating autonomous and advanced driver-assisted systems. You mentioned representatives of U.S. jurisdictions and both British Columbia and Alberta.

Are all states involved in this? Are California, Michigan, Arizona the primary active ones or what jurisdictions in the States are part of it?

Mr. Soriano: First of all, there are a total of 16 jurisdictions that are part of the working group. From the United States, they span California, Nevada, Michigan, Florida, Virginia, Texas, Indiana and a number of others, but it’s not all of the jurisdictions.

Senator Bovey: One of the things we’ve been asked to do is come up with suggestions and recommendations to the federal government, to the House of Commons, on regulations respecting autonomous vehicles. Given the work you’ve done, and this global community you’re working and in connection with, what would you recommend that we put forward to the federal government to consider for regulations? I’m particularly concerned about cross-border regulations.

I appreciate, here as in the United States, that the federal government has some authorities, municipal governments others and the provinces or states others, but on a federal basis, what do you think we should be recommending?

Mr. Soriano: We recognize the division of responsibilities relative to motor vehicles and the operation of motor vehicles, and we buy into the fact that the U.S. federal government is responsible and should be responsible for the safety of the vehicle — in other words, the crash-worthiness of the vehicle and the elements of the vehicle that will make it a safe vehicle.

States are responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle. We currently do that by licensing people who have demonstrated an ability to safely operate the vehicle. The issue with autonomous vehicles becomes more complicated, because the vehicle itself will make those driving decisions.

I would recommend that, from a federal level, involving your local government along with the federal government to determine how that division of responsibility will play out with autonomous vehicles is key. Federal motor vehicle safety standards in the United States are something the manufacturers need to adhere to, but there are no federal motor vehicle safety standards for autonomous technologies at this point. There may be, and there probably will be in the future, but until that time, we’re left with this situation where the cars need to be safe, built safely, manufactured safely, programmed safely and operated safely on the roadways. It has to be a cooperative effort between the federal level and the local level.

Senator Bovey: What about the U.S. federal level and the Canadian federal level?

Mr. Soriano: There has to be some reciprocity there in terms of how the safety standards are recognized. To the best of my knowledge, that type of relationship already exists.

Senator Bovey: Thank you very much.

Senator Cormier: I want to say that I appreciate the leadership that California has on this issue. I was wondering, since you’re quite advanced in the regulation process, what is the support of the population? Where is the population right now on the arrival, I would say, of autonomous vehicles?

Here, when we talk about that, in a certain part of the population, they talk about science fiction. I’m wondering where you are and if you think you will have an awareness campaign — or what would you need to bring the population around to that innovative vehicle?

Mr. Soriano: That is a good point because we’re aware of several surveys that have been conducted with the general population about their opinions on autonomous vehicles, and they vary.

The difficulty with a number of these surveys is that questions are being asked of people on products that they have no idea about. It is something they have never ridden in. It is something they’ve maybe read about or heard about.

It’s difficult to assess whether or not the legitimacy of the surveys is there because when you ask someone about self-driving cars, intuitively they will immediately think of a car that can drive itself without any human intervention. In reality, an autonomous vehicle spans a spectrum, and vehicles that are on the road today can be considered autonomous, although at a very low level.

There are questions about how this will roll out all the way to a completely self-driving car, and it also highlights the fact that this education needs to take place with the general public. People in the industry have a hard time deciding on a common nomenclature. That’s within the industry. Outside of the industry, you can see how, when you speak about autonomous vehicles, it can be more complicated.

The issue I alluded to earlier with the crashes, people don’t know these cars will be following the traffic laws, so there needs to be some sort of education.

In our regulations that we’ve put forth, we have a provision that manufacturers have a number of items. One is a law enforcement plan. It’s a plan for law enforcement and first responders on how they would respond to an incident. For instance, how will first responders deal with a vehicle? How will police deal with a vehicle when they pull a vehicle to the side? How will they know that the vehicle is in autonomous mode? How will they know how to turn off autonomous mode? What is the proper way of getting the information about the vehicle? Those types of things need to be put into the plan.

Also, from a manufacturer’s standpoint, an end-user education plan is called for. How will the end-user be educated about the technology?

Senator MacDonald: Mr. Soriano, thank you very much for the patience you’ve shown the past few weeks to get to speak to us. We appreciate it.

We were in California a few weeks ago, and I want to say — in fact we were in San Francisco when the fire started — that I know it’s been a tough few weeks down there and we are wishing everybody the best.

We were exposed to a lot of pretty impressive technological advancement and management. I’m curious, from your vantage point, what sort of timeline do you envision for the establishment of a full-time AV infrastructure in California? Where do you think it would be first introduced and in what fashion? Is it more likely to be introduced in public transportation as opposed to personal transportation? Can you elaborate on that in terms of a time table?

Mr. Soriano: I get asked that question quite often. It’s a tough one to answer because it’s looking into the crystal ball and trying to state definitively when the technology will be developed to the point of public deployment, so it’s with that caveat.

What I could glean from the various meetings we’ve had with the industry, it seems to be solving this first and last-mile problem is something that would be right for an initial deployment of the technology. In other words, maybe low-speed shuttles that will take people from a subway stop to another destination or a bus stop to another destination, but these shuttles that can travel at fairly low speed but can carry a number of passengers. That is being tested and may be something that will roll out soon.

As far as whether or not it is a private ownership model or a fleet model, the indicators seem to be that this fleet model is something that would be first, although you can never tell. A fleet model being a ride-share service of some sort being operated by, say, a manufacturer.

As far as timelines, I would be hard pressed to give out a year, but we hear that it’s coming. Our job is to get the regulations in place so that government is not a barrier to that. That’s why we’re moving forward with the regulations.

Senator MacDonald: Do you think it’s fair to state that the education of the public is a bigger challenge than the successful evolution of the technology?

Mr. Soriano: I think it’s at least as equal a challenge. The societal acceptance of the technology is key, and it’s something that definitely needs to be addressed. That’s not a technical issue. The technology will continue to be developed. The education, the awareness and the acceptance by the public is something that definitely needs to occur.

Senator MacDonald: Thank you, sir.

Senator Eggleton: Thank you for your presentation. The United States Department of Transport has put out a model state policy, I understand. I guess this is an effort to bring about some coordination across different states with respect to how you deal with autonomous vehicles.

How is that working? Is that something that’s being followed, or is the U.S. government putting itself into state jurisdiction where it shouldn’t? How is all of that coming together?

Mr. Soriano: The Autonomous Vehicle Working Group that I mentioned in my comments is the group that is working on ensuring that we minimize the risk of having a patchwork of regulations throughout the country. In fact, the Autonomous Vehicle Working Group is the entity that helped author that model state policy that was in NHTSA’s initial documents. Through that trade organization, through AAMVA, we’re able to have jurisdictions buy into the fact that the guidance that is being put out is something that could be used by jurisdictions should they choose to move forward in regulating in this phase.

There is a spectrum of how jurisdictions are choosing to regulate. Some are more proscriptive; some allow things more. So it’s a spectrum, and the guidance that we are putting out is the set of best practices that jurisdictions can look towards so we would at least have some commonality among each of the jurisdictions.

Senator Eggleton: This working group that created this model policy, how did it come together? Was that a voluntary effort, or did the federal government appoint it? How did it happen?

Mr. Soriano: I should clarify. The working group worked with NHTSA to develop that model state policy. Our federal government, NHTSA, funded the working group, and they funded it through the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. So AAMVA formed the working group, and because of the working relationship with CCMTA, the two Canadians jurisdictions were also part of it. That’s how the working group got formed. It was made up from a number of states that were working in autonomous vehicles but also states that did not work on autonomous vehicles. They were coming into this very new. And so we had a wide variety of jurisdictions and that’s how the working group came together. So we continue our work. We are on track to complete the first report; we hope to have that published at the beginning quarter of next year. Then we’ll move on to the next phase, which would include the commercial vehicles.

Senator Eggleton: Thank you very much.

The Chair: I will take this opportunity since you are talking about your report. When we make our report public, you can count on our sending you a copy and we hope we will have reciprocity with you.

That brings me to data sharing. You have so many companies working on these projects. Do they share data among themselves, and do they share it with the State of California, whether it’s the level of accidents, failures? How is that information shared?

Mr. Soriano: The information that I mentioned before, the obligation that manufacturers have as part of being an authorized tester, it is the accident reports as well as those annual reports of disengagements.

We make those reports available online, so anyone can see those crash reports. Anyone can pull up those crash reports and read the description of what occurred and make a judgment for themselves on how the autonomous vehicle played a part, if any, in those crashes.

We don’t make a judgment as to the fault; we simply collect the data and make it available.

It helps with transparency. It helps the public become more informed about the development of the technology, and then similarly with the disengagement reports, those reports speak to the number of miles that have been tested in California as well as the number of disengagements that have happened, in other words, how many times has the technology failed over those miles that have been tested. So we make those reports available.

As far as companies sharing data among themselves, that’s really not something I can speak to. I would imagine if companies have an agreement among each other that that would probably include data sharing, but I certainly can’t speak to that.

The Chair: One of the preoccupations of the service industry is that after the vehicle is on the road you become a captive in the sense that some of these vehicles don’t give the information. You used to go to a garage, they could plug it online and you have a diagnostic. But now the technology is so high level you can’t necessarily go to a local service station, even for interim, whether it’s the cameras, radars or LIDARs. How do you regulate the fact that this information should be made available so that people are not captive to the car manufacturer?

Mr. Soriano: Our regulations specify that the sensor data be captured 30 seconds prior to a collision and that it be put in a format that would be retrievable by law enforcement, should they need to. Law enforcement would need a warrant or consent for that data.

From a privacy perspective, we state that passengers need to be notified of any data that is being collected that is not being used for the safe operation of the vehicle. We leave it at that.

So if data is being collected that is not being used for the safe operation of the vehicle, for example, data about destination or something like that, the occupant needs to be notified of that.

Senator Cormier: Many experts believe that AV technology has the potential to reduce congestion and improve environmental outcomes. However, others suggest these benefits will not be realized if the focus remains on privately owned AVs as opposed to public transit initiatives.

I have to admit that since the beginning of this study, I have been wondering what is going to be more beneficial for the cities and rural communities, because I come from a rural community. Is there some kind of priority there in terms of regulation and for public transit versus privately owned AVs? What is your assessment on this view?

Mr. Soriano: We are not weighing in on that issue. We realize that there are different schools of thought about what will play out. Some are saying that congestion will be relieved. Others are saying that we won’t reach that state until we get quite a bit of penetration of the vehicles. It really is an unknown.

That being said, the number of vehicle miles travelled probably will increase. The issue of private ownership versus fleet deployment all plays a part, and I don’t have a definitive answer on that.

Senator Cormier: Thank you.

Senator Mercer: In your presentation earlier, you mentioned test results in one of the reports. There were 46 crashes and many of them were rear-end crashes. Also, I think if you didn’t mention it, I interpreted the problem being that the drivers behind these vehicles didn’t really know they were automated vehicles and thought, like the rest of us, they might come to a rolling stop at that red light as opposed to actually stopping completely.

Have you considered a regulation that would have automated vehicles have some very visible identifiable symbol on the car so that other drivers know it is an automated vehicle so that when they do come to that red light they understand — this is part of the education process for both people using the automatic vehicles and other drivers — that when they come up behind that vehicle and come to a red light, they know the vehicle is going to come to a full stop?

Mr. Soriano: We’ve had those discussions. We’ve had robust discussions about that, sort of a double-edged sword.

Senator Mercer: “Robust” means an argument.

Mr. Soriano: It’s sort of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, just as you had described, by having the indicator that this is an autonomous vehicle or a vehicle that is in automous mode, it would certainly signify to the people around the autonomous vehicle the status of that car.

That being said, some people may take advantage of the fact that that is an autonomous vehicle and may not behave in a way that they should behave. So we went back and forth on that, and any type of indicator outside of the vehicle should be at the federal level so there is some consistency throughout the country.

California did not put anything in the regulations with regard to a visible indicator like a light or other type of marking, so we did not take that on.

Senator Mercer: It might be a good idea for the federal government to have a national regulation for these vehicles, a standard identifier, that this is a potentially driverless vehicle so that those of us driving around in vehicles know how to respond or at least anticipate what we might encounter.

Mr. Soriano: I think it’s something that should be considered, where all of the pros and cons need to be fully vetted, but that definitely needs to be at the federal level.

Senator Mercer: You talked about reports of crashes and we have concentrated on the minor rear enders. Have there been any serious crashes?

Mr. Soriano: There have been some that have been more serious and they have garnered media attention. I would say the one that is the most notable is one that occurred with a Google vehicle. The Google vehicle was on a three-lane road, in the right-most lane. It was approaching an intersection and it was going to make a right-hand turn at the intersection. The light was red, the Google vehicle was at the edge of the lane and there was enough room for the vehicle to proceed toward the intersection as other vehicles were stopped at the light.

As it was proceeding down the road, it came upon a grate in the road that was surrounded with sandbags. The vehicle couldn’t go over the sandbags and attempted to merge back into traffic as the light turned green. So all of the cars started proceeding and as the autonomous vehicle started to merge there was a bus in the lane and there was a collision.

Essentially, the autonomous vehicle thought that the bus saw the autonomous vehicle and would allow the autonomous vehicle to merge in. That didn’t occur and so there was a collision. No one got hurt but that was something that was more notable.

Senator Mercer: Was the owner of the driverless vehicle ticketed? Was he given a citation?

Mr. Soriano: I don’t know if there was a ticket issued in that. I’ll have to review that crash and get back to you.

Senator Mercer: I would appreciate that, thank you.

The Chair: Mr. Soriano, on this very realistic note we’d like to thank you again for your presentation and your participation for the second time.

Honourable senators, next Tuesday we will hear from representatives of the Privacy and Access Council of Canada and the company New Flyer.

On this note, as you also know, we are not sitting next Wednesday night.

(The committee adjourned.)