Thursday 21st January 2021

Pressing pause on innovation while standards and regulations accelerate

Published on December 23rd, 2020

If there’s one word to describe the automotive industry, it’s resilient. 2020 was without a doubt its most challenging year on record, with the COVID pandemic transforming consumer spending habits and creating severe supply chain disruption.

Yet the industry stayed strong and adapted, says Stephanie Leonard, head of Traffic Innovation and Policy, TomTom. In the aftermath, it is looking to repair and is eyeing new opportunities.

It’s tempting to think that 2021 will be a year of caution for the industry. But we’re still likely to see surprising developments and the acceleration of trends including electro-mobility (e-mobility), increased government support for the sector, and the gradual rolling out of new autonomous vehicle standards and technologies.

Autonomous vehicle hype

In particular, we’ll see that the hype and innovation surrounding the autonomous vehicle market will roll on, and some significant legal and conceptual milestones achieved next year.

The UK Government is currently consulting on permitting automated lane keeping systems on UK motorways (up to a maximum speed of 70mph). This will likely come to pass in 2021 and with little opposition given its limited nature and the safety of the technology. Furthermore, EU and UK legislation to mandate intelligent speed assistance (ISA) systems in vehicles is currently being finalised. Yet this won’t come into force until 2022 and it won’t be until 2024 that all vehicles must carry ISA systems as standard.

However, another significant development in 2021 could be around the standards that define self-driving vehicles. There is much discussion in the industry of the need to simplify SAE International’s classification system first introduced in 2014. This system categorises self-driving vehicles according to five levels of autonomy from complete driver control to zero human intervention. Yet calls for this system to be updated and simplified may come to a head in 2021, arguing that its complexity may be stifling adoption and progress.

Change will take time in 2021

Yet expectations should be tempered. In 2021 we will enter the UN’s second Decade of Action for Road Safety, and minds will be focused on upholding rather than withdrawing standards. Bringing about change will be a challenge and take time, but it will be a move in the right direction for the industry.

As the industry continues to develop and advance autonomous vehicles, safety will be at the top of everyone’s minds. For the industry to deliver on their promise in providing a future with autonomous vehicles and safety at the heart of this, clearly defined standards and regulations must first be set in place. Only then will the public feel at ease when taking the back seat.

While we won’t see an influx of autonomous vehicles on the roads just yet, in the years ahead, we will likely see significant milestones achieved when it comes to the rules and regulations for autonomous vehicles. From developments in automated lane keeping systems to potential changes in how we define self-driving vehicles the government will be at the forefront for pushing the likelihood of an autonomous future forward.

The author is Stephanie Leonard, head of Traffic Innovation and Policy, TomTom.

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