Ontario plans to become the first province to allow self-driving vehicles to be tested on public roads. Testing of autonomous or self-driving vehicles can begin as early as Jan. 1, as Ontario seeks to grab a share of the billions of dollars auto makers, parts companies and technology giants are spending to develop cars that drive themselves. The province’s move will create better opportunities for Canadian companies to test components and show automakers their technologies.
The prospect of self-driving cars was believed to be decades away, but tech companies and automakers are in a race to bring such vehicles to market. Many vehicles already carry features that keep them in their lanes, speed them up or slow them down depending on traffic in front of them and enable them to park themselves. The Ontario plan will allow autonomous vehicles to drive on any roads, although it’s likely to be mainly on secondary highways and some city streets. That differs from Virginia, for example, which is establishing what it calls Virginia Automated Corridors on about 110 kilometres of highway, where autonomous vehicles can be tested in real-world conditions. The main benefit of autonomous vehicles is safety – a reduction in the hundreds of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damage caused annually by vehicle accidents around the world.
Under Ontario guidelines set up last year, there must be a driver trained in how to operate an autonomous vehicle present in the driver’s seat at all times. The vehicles being tested must have a mechanism to disable the autonomous technology so the driver can take over and a system to alert the driver if the technology fails or unexpectedly shuts down. Drivers and owners will be subject to the speed limits and other regulations that exist under the province’s Highway Traffic Act.