Netherlands keen to encourage self-driving cars

The Netherlands is aiming to get the promotion of the self-driving car on the European agenda. This includes facilitating large-scale cross-border testing, and enabling a market launch in 2019. This European agenda will be discussed by all 28 European Member states in mid-April, at the informal Transport Council. This agenda should stimulate the emergence of self-drive vehicles, and (semi) autonomous systems should be introduced onto the market in three years’ time.  

Currently, the testing of this type of vehicle is fully underway in countries including the Netherlands, the UK and in the United States. However, these pilot schemes always occur within the borders individual countries. If it is up to the Netherlands, this will change in the future.

Testing

International testing should be promoted in order to identify just what it takes to deploy this technology in cross-border transport. In addition, the agenda calls for agreements over the creation of legal frameworks and the optimization of the benefits of self-drive vehicles.

According to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, there is a solid business case for this type of vehicle. ‘’If it means that travel time becomes work time, it doesn’t matter if you live, say, two hours away from your work’’ said the ministry’s policy advisor, Robbert Verweij, during a seminar on self-drive cars at the Automotive Campus in Helmond.

System leap

Verweij sees the future use of robotic cars as a leap in systems as significant as the one when individuals first started buying cars for private use. ‘’However, we are still a way off’’ he muses. According to the policy advisor, substantial steps still need to be put into place in the development of the technology.

Developers need to think about whether self-drive cars need to obey traffic rules, or rules of conduct. ‘’What do you do, for example, if an elderly woman wants to cross the road away from a traffic light or a zebra crossing?’’ Also, according to Verweij, it is not always completely clear how other road users are going to behave. To illustrate this, he uses the example of a driver in a ‘’normal’’ car putting on their indicator, on the motorway. ‘’Would this mean that the car would move into the lane where I am in my self-drive car straight away, or does it mean that s/he would first let me pass?’’

Step by step

According to Verweij, the European approach differs to the American one. ‘’There you can see that Google is really focussed on completely autonomous driving. In Europe, there is more faith in making small steps and, little by little, enabling the car to do more and more autonomously.’’ He expects, therefore, that motorists will still need a driving licence for the next twenty years.

At the same time, it was announced that Brussels has set up a work group for self-drive vehicles: Gear 2030. This group was formed in January and is to remain active until October of next year. The period may be extended; this will be decided at a later date.

The group aims to optimize Europe’s competitive positioning in the global automotive industry in the self-drive car segment – an area where there is plenty of competition from America and Asia. The partnership should come up with advice on issues like regulation, for example. In addition, it needs to identify what the arrival of robotic cars means for the European automotive industry, and how the roll-out can be promoted.

Author: Vicky Beresford

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