Published: January 29th, 2018

Autonomous vehicles are being touted as the future of the transportation industry but a new report by the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications says Canada is “ill-prepared” for this fast approaching “new age”.

Early driverless cars have hit the roads in various pilot projects across the country in the last year and many experts predict they will become fully integrated in urban areas within the next 10 to 15 years.

The Senate committee, which has been investigating the regulatory and technical issues related to the deployment of connected and automated vehicles since March 2016, advises that Canada needs to start preparing for the inevitable disruptions of self-driving cars as soon as possible to ensure the country “is ready for this upcoming period of technological change”.

“These vehicles are coming down the road and they’re heading towards us, but contrary to traditional changes in car technology, this is going to be by leaps and bounds,” Senator Dennis Dawson, deputy chair of the committee, tells CDN. “New players like Tesla have already announced driverless trucks that will be crossing the border in a few years, and we don’t have any kind of framework to deal with how these new vehicles will hit the road. The government is talking about it but we are, like we often have in the past, not reacting quickly enough.”

While reducing human error-related collisions and more mobility for less mobile groups like the elderly are obvious benefits, there are glaring security, privacy, and labour concerns around these vehicles, Dawson says, but adds that regardless, this technology is coming.

“There’s always challenge between progress and protection. When they invented the unmanned elevator, people didn’t want to get on the elevator because they didn’t feel comfortable and they would wait for somebody to be in it before they’d get on. Elevators continued being automated and people eventually got used to them. There’s a natural tendency to resist that type of change, but change is happening much more quickly,” he explains. “These technological companies are building the product and will soon be available, and Canadians will be using it.”

To alleviate some of these headaches, Dawson and the committee have come up with 16 recommendations for the Canadian government that will “set the country up for success”:

  1. A joint policy unit combining the resources and decision-making skills of Transport Canada and Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada to coordinate federal efforts and implement a national strategy on automated and connected vehicles.
  2. Engagement with provincial and territorial governments via the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators to develop a model provincial policy. Municipalities should also be included in this discussion.
  3. Work with the US through the Regulatory Cooperation Council so that autonomous vehicles operate seamlessly in both countries.
  4. Urgently develop vehicle safety guidelines on autonomous vehicle designs, development, testing, and deployment processes that should be regularly updated to keep pace with the evolution of this technology.
  5. Make it easier to use the 5.9 gigahertz radio frequency spectrum that has been set aside for dedicated short-range communications systems for connected vehicle experimentation.
  6. Develop cybersecurity guidance for the transportation sector using best practices and recognized principles. It should also include advice on equipment, replacement equipment, and software updates.
  7. Establish a real-time crisis connect network in collaboration with Public Safety Canada, the Communications Security Establishment, and industry stakeholders, and provide regular progress reports.
  8. Table legislation that empowers the Privacy Commissioner to proactively investigate and enforce industry compliance with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
  9. Continuously assess the need for privacy regulations specifically for connected cars and autonomous vehicles.
  10. Develop a connected car framework with privacy protection as a key driver with relevant stakeholders, including governments, automakers, and consumers.
  11. Monitor the impact of autonomous cars on competition in the automotive and mobility industries to ensure the aftermarket and rental car companies continue to have access to the data they need to offer their services.
  12. Increase investments in research and development of this technology through a new Innovative and Intelligent Mobility Research and Test Centre, which should be located at the existing Motor Vehicle Test Centre. They should be tested in a mix of urban, rural, and cold environments, as well as projects dealing with cybersecurity and privacy.
  13. Work with Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada, which funds partnerships between universities, industry, government, and not-for-profit organizations to create large-scale research networks, to reconsider the rule requiring that these networks close down at the end of NCE program funding.
  14. Monitor the impact of these technologies on the automobile insurance and public transit sectors.
  15. Update retraining, skills, and employment support for inevitable labour disruptions through collaboration between the provinces and territories and Employment and Social Development Canada.
  16. Develop cybersecurity training materials and programs to improve public understanding of cybersecurity issues.

With industry professionals expecting widespread autonomous vehicle use within the next two decades, Dawson says he wants to see governments in Canada sit down as early as possible to start collaborating, communicating, and developing policies to structure the driverless vehicle ecosystem.