Autonomous transport must be developed with a global eye
Automation in transport, including “self-driving” autonomous vehicles, has the potential to improve the lives of billions of people and transform mobility as we know it. It could enable a safer, more efficient, accessible and ecological means of transport. It could also ultimately save billions of dollars every year and help combat climate change while reducing congestion and emissions.
However, these advancements can only be realized on a global scale if countries work together on the necessary international laws and regulations. Otherwise, with different systems in place in different countries, all autonomous vehicles would stop at the border, meaning that international transport of people and goods could not benefit from these technologies. Furthermore, manufacturers would have to develop different vehicles for every country, making them prohibitively costly.
Focusing on the need for a uniform approach to ensure that the benefits of these technologies can be fully harnessed for all modes of inland transport, automation has been high on the agenda as close to 400 representatives of governments and key transport stakeholders from over 70 countries around the world gather in Geneva this week for the 81st session of UNECE’s Inland Transport Committee (ITC). ITS Ireland was represented at the meetings by Donal Hodgins.
Aiming to capitalize on the potential of automation in inland transport to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ministers and Vice Ministers of transport and representatives from 31 countries so far – with further expressions of interest from other countries – in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East have adopted a resolution on “Enhancing Cooperation, Harmonization and Integration in the Era of Transport Automation.“
The resolution enshrines countries’ commitment to ensuring that the accelerated pace of innovation in transport automation and digitalization will be characterized by harmonization and interoperability, as well as the highest levels of safety, environmental sustainability, equal access and the enhanced integration of multiple modes of mobility. It acknowledges “the unique role of the Inland Transport Committee as the specialized intergovernmental body for inland transport and as the centre of United Nations conventions that provide the platform that forms the international regulatory framework for inland transport and thus a key actor to achieve globally interoperable solutions for future transport”.
The resolution, which was adopted at the Committee’s high-level Policy Segment, addresses the need for strengthened cooperation to ensure that benefits are shared as widely as possible. The ITC will help to guide the realization of this vision, ensuring that this new era of transport automation is defined with a truly global vision.
The week’s events began with a day-long exploration of “Automation in Transport: Safe deployment of automated vehicles in traffic”, organized by the two intergovernmental bodies under the Committee that are at the heart of the legal and regulatory work needed for the widespread introduction of autonomous vehicles on the roads: the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety (WP.1) and the World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29).
The event featured the participation of high level policy makers and experts, who discussed the issues around the safe and systematic introduction of autonomous vehicles in traffic. Key themes addressed included finding a common terminology so that developers and lawmakers are in sync, the current technical capacity of vehicle automation systems, and the safe interaction between automated vehicles and drivers.
In his policy statement, the Russian Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr. Alexander Morozov, highlighted the huge potential of automated vehicles for coping with the ever-increasing demand of transportation and mobility, “but it has to be safe and secure, which can only be achieved when experts for road safety and experts for vehicle certification work together”.
Mr. Mathew Baldwin, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Transport and Mobility and EU Coordinator for Road Safety, highly welcomed this initiative by UNECE bringing together both global fora that provide the international regulatory basis for road traffic rules and vehicle regulations, highlighting the need for further cooperation to unlock the benefits of autonomous transport.
The joint event came the day before the opening of the 81st annual session of the ITC. The annual session always dedicates its first day to a High-level policy segment focused on a specific topic. This year the focus was on automation in transport, covering all modes of inland transport as well as the digitization of transport documents.
The Committee session continued until Friday 22 February and also focused on issues such as road safety, harmonization and integration in the era of transport document digitalization and automation, as well as seeking to adopt a new 2030 ITC Strategy, with automation as a key dimension.