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Autonomous Cars Face Hurdles: Regulations, Safety Concerns, and Infrastructure Needs

AUTOMOTIVEAutonomous Cars Face Hurdles: Regulations, Safety Concerns, and Infrastructure Needs

Cyber threats, software errors, and road infrastructure updates are among the barriers obstructing the progress of autonomous transportation. However, experts point out that regulations failing to keep up with technology advancements are the biggest challenge. Currently, some traffic laws hinder the testing of sophisticated driver-supported systems. To address this, the Ministry of Infrastructure has planned to overhaul relevant laws in the first quarter of 2025. Another challenge is convincing users about the efficacy and reliability of autonomous transport.

“Regulatory challenges, primarily aimed at traffic safety, are the primary concern. We cannot rule out the possibility of collision, as risk is always involved,” says professor Marcin Ślęzak, director of the Institute of Automotive Transport and head of the Center of Excellence for Autonomous and Connected Vehicles.

In conventional vehicles, the responsibility for any incident falls on the driver, who may only prove any vehicle-design flaws. However, in the case of autonomous vehicles, it is necessary to divide the legal responsibility between the driver and the manufacturer, in a way that more accurately reflects the actual control over the car.

Experts point out that laws, on both European and national levels, need to be tailored to the requirements of the market, including changes to traffic laws and the Vienna Convention. This is also because testing of autonomous vehicles on roads is nearly impossible at this time.

“To develop autonomous technologies, we need regulations that will facilitate the testing of these solutions. Until we are confident in technology at a certain trust level, we will not release them for commercial use on the roads,” says Prof. Marcelin Ślęzak.

The Ministry of Infrastructure has already announced changes to the laws regarding autonomous vehicles. Recently, in a list of legislative work, a promise appeared to amend the road traffic law aimed at facilitating testing of autonomous vehicles and their equipment on public roads. New regulations will link permissions for public road tests to prior tests on research tracks or the insurance of the testing entity. New responsibilities for the test organizer will also appear along with regulations pertaining to their liability. The Ministry assumes that the new law will be passed at the beginning of 2025.

Autonomous cars communicate with other vehicles and surrounding infrastructure which then the car uses to improve safety. Zeeshan Naeem, director of FuSA, cyber security, ADAS, AD Systems Engineering at ZF Automotive Systems Poland says, “If an incident occurs, we conduct a significant number of tests, up to one million kilometers, and the car learns from its mistakes, understanding how to behave. In short, the more tests we can conduct on the street, the more the car learns how to drive to avoid accidents.”

A partial solution to this problem is the DARTS-PL project, launched at the end of 2022, by a consortium consisting of the Institute of Automotive Transport and the Warsaw University of Technology. The program funded by NCBR as part of GOSPOSTRATEG prepares a unique base of test scenarios for autonomous vehicles, considering road conditions typical for Poland. The database will underpin the design, creation, testing, and evaluation of perception systems for such vehicles.

“The software we have in autonomous vehicles is not perfect yet. It’s worth paying attention to perception systems, as they often recognize things that don’t exist or don’t recognize what they should. There are objects on the road that are not defined in some way – it can even be the shadow of an aircraft on the road, which the algorithm tries to detect as an object in front of it, and it can brake and cause a collision, ” notes Aleksandra Rodak, expert at the Center of Excellence for Autonomous and Connected Vehicles, and the Laboratory of Transport Psychology and Driving Simulators at the Institute of Automotive Transport.

Experts also include protection against cyberattacks among the challenges associated with the development of AV. Vehicles, leveraging constant network connectivity, and other autonomous means of transport will be highly exposed to hacker attacks. Modern vehicles equipped with a Bluetooth system, for example, can be hacked and infected with malicious software. The central threat here is the possibility of taking control over a vehicle or other device and using it for criminal purposes, including acts of terrorism.

“People who would like to cause any danger in land traffic can potentially try to influence the algorithm’s operation, wanting, for example, to stop a vehicle in an uncontrolled way while moving at high speeds. It is a very dangerous situation, but it should be emphasized that certain cybersecurity standards are applied to prevent such a development of events. What is important, what people who deal with software every day are doing, is precisely the defense against such cyber attacks, cutting off the inflow of information from the outside, so that the vehicle sends information to specified points and downloads information from specific points, but does not communicate with other, unknown data sources,” says Aleksandra Rodak.

“However, the biggest concerns are related to safety. It is a key determinant of using autonomous solutions,” emphasizes Andrzej Gontarz, analyst at the Mikromakro Foundation. “We say that this safety will improve as a result of applying advanced technologies, that so far the human being is the weakest link. Of course, technology contributes to improving safety, but we still don’t know how this final model of autonomous transport will look like. Therefore, I think that safety issues are in the foreground.”

He emphasizes that this is also linked to the issue of persuading users to autonomous vehicles.

“So instead of discussing social acceptance, I would talk about adaptation. This term shows that we are dealing with a process in which the needs of various groups are taken into account: suppliers, manufacturers of automated solutions, and on the other hand, the beliefs and expectations of recipients. Adaptation is a process that lasts, which is dynamic, takes place in interaction between different groups of participants, and it seems to me that we have to deal with it and we will in the near future when it comes to autonomous transport,” says Andrzej Gontarz.

Experts also point to the need to adapt infrastructure to the needs of autonomous transport, its reconstruction, mapping, and equipping with appropriate sensors. The Polish Economic Institute in the “Autonomous Transport of the Future” report estimated that fitting sensors into all existing hard roads with improved surfaces in Poland would cost around 55 billion zlotys in total, with approximately 3.8 billion zlotys allocated for national and express roads.

The challenges related to the automation of transport and related challenges were the main theme of the expert debate titled “Social, economic and technical challenges of autonomous road transport”, which took place on February 22, 2024, at the Institute of Automotive Transport.

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