Don’t over-regulate driverless cars, industry tells Ottawa

Last year, the UK set aside almost $200 million for driverless car R&D

Don’t over-regulate the rapidly growing autonomous vehicle industry, advocates for Canada’s technology and automotive sectors warn Ottawa.

While the 2016 federal budget earmarked $7.3 million for spending on improving motor vehicle safety, Canada lags far behind its G7 counterparts in preparing for what will be a hugely disruptive digital technology, Barrie Kirk, executive director of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, said in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Read: What’s it really like in the driver’s seat of a driverless car?

Last year, the UK set aside almost $200 million for research and development of driverless vehicle technology, and to build wireless and other infrastructure to support the vehicles.

The money has led to an influx of matching private-sector spending to support research by automotive, IT and telecoms companies. Testing is also being conducted in the UK in advance of new driverless vehicle regulations.

In the United States, where vehicles are regulated state by state, the federal Department of Transportation has floated a model set of rules it hopes all states will adopt.

In Canada, ground transportation falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, making it difficult to enact regulations that would be consistent across the country.

Too much––or worse, inconsistent––regulation will stifle the industry by making Canada less attractive to companies wanting to conduct vehicle research, Kirk said.

“The more hurdles you raise, the fewer vehicles will be tested here,” he said.

“At the moment, we in Canada are not really on the car companies’ radar screens as much as I’d like them to be.”

The effect that tech-driven services such as Uber have had on the taxi industry pales in comparison to the tremors that driverless vehicles will send through the economy, said Kirk.

Read: What your car isn’t telling you

Mark Aruja, chairman of Unmanned Systems Canada, said he expects a significant impact on jobs coming within the next three to 10 years.

“There’s a huge change coming for those who drive as a profession,” predicted Aruja, whose organization has been heavily involved in helping to build regulations around the ballooning remote-controlled drone marketplace in Canada.

Long-haul truck drivers, taxi drivers, even transit workers could be forced out of work as companies and municipal governments embrace transportation technologies that don’t require someone behind the wheel, he said.

And if predictions of significant reductions in automobile collisions hold true, everyone from insurance adjusters to auto body repair technicians could also feel the effects.

How cities are built will also be affected, say municipal leaders with their eyes on the technology. Citizens could skip car ownership, replace driveways with gardens and be chauffeured from home to work by a machine, said Bruce Lazenby, the CEO of Invest Ottawa.


Still, even some of those most in tune with changes brought on by the high-tech revolution say they aren’t so sure driverless vehicles are about to take over the roads completely.

“I own a motorcycle and I’m not about to give that up,” quipped panellist John Wall, senior vice president and head of Blackberry-owned QNX Software Systems.

“And I will probably still drive a car… for recreation.”

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