Lack of Canadian standards for automated systems in cars worries advocates
'Without that regulation of some of those features it can cause confusion among Canadians'
A new breed of car is taking over Canadian roadways, filled with cutting-edge safety features like automatic emergency braking, automated steering and adaptive cruise control.
But Transport Canada has no uniform standards for these technologies, neither what they should do or what they should be called.
That worries some consumer advocacy groups.
Each automated safety system uses sensors to detect obstacles. In some cases, the system will steer, slow, stop or park a vehicle without the driver's direct control.
All that innovation without clear standards doesn't sit well with the Automobile Protection Association.
"The APA is concerned about the empty space when it comes to regulating the design and also the function of active driving features or collision avoidance features on vehicles," said George Iny director of the Automobile Protection Association, a Montreal-based non-profit group dedicated to consumers.
Iny said only when people start getting injured by a new technology will regulators apply standards. He points to the adoption of airbags in the U.S.
When airbags were introduced, they exploded with such force they caused injuries. It was only after the injuries mounted that standards were put in place and the technology was refined.
"I think there will be a similar thing here as well," Iny said.
The lack of federal standards for automated systems is laid out in a Transport Canada document entitled: Canada's Safety Framework for Automated and Connected Vehicles.
The document is meant to provide an overview of Canada's current legislation and regulatory standards on these vehicles.
"While TC [Transport Canada] regulates some advanced safety features, such as advanced lighting technologies, mandatory back-up cameras and electronic stability control systems, there are no standards at this time that deal specifically with automation features, such as automatic emergency braking, automated steering systems and adaptive cruise control," stated the report released in February.
Yet thousands of vehicles are already on the roads with those features.
In its framework for automated and connected vehicles, Transport Canada said it will continue to explore ways to incorporate these technologies into existing regulations and standards, or create new ones as required.
In the absence of formal regulations, it has put out several documents outlining guidelines and tools for manufacturers to follow.
It says it is working with the international community to develop specific standards that establish performance and testing requirements for driver assistance technologies.
It's not clear how long that work will take.
Despite the lack of specific regulations on autonomous systems, all vehicles coming into Canada still need to comply with Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Under the act, all vehicles in Canada have to comply with the country's motor vehicle safety regulations.
Those standards include an extensive range of safety requirements, including requirements for braking, lighting and occupant protection among others.
"Should a safety defect in a vehicle be suspected, including any safety defect caused by driver assistance technologies, Transport Canada has the authority under the MVSA to investigate and mandate corrective action by the manufacturer," Transport Canada spokesperson Simon Rivet said in an email.
Still, specific regulations would at least help eliminate some of the uncertainty Canadians face when they use this new autonomous technology, said Kristine D'Arbelles, a senior manager of public affairs with the Canadian Automobile Association.
She said there is no conformity among automakers about what to call these different automated systems and that can puzzle drivers.
Honda has what it calls a "road departure mitigation system", while Ford has a "lane keeping assist" system. Both do the same thing but have different names.
D'Arbelles said driver assistance technologies should be regulated, forcing all manufacturers to give their systems the same name if they perform the same function. That would be similar to how anti-lock brakes have one name across all brands.
"Without that regulation of some of those features it can cause confusion among Canadians, and then once confusion is introduced then that's where you get … collisions — and collisions leading to both injuries and death," she said.
David Adams, president of Global Automakers of Canada, agrees that there needs to be a universal way to describe and identify the driver assistance safety features in vehicles.
Adams heads a national trade organization that represents European, Korean and Japanese vehicle manufacturers.
He said technology is outpacing regulation, but there are safety checks in place.
He said the automotive industry is mostly "self certifying," meaning manufacturers are responsible for making sure their vehicles meet industry standards.
"So even if there's not official regulations there's at least guidance documents and an understanding of what the technologies are, how they work, and what may be some best practices are around those technologies as they get deployed in vehicles," said Adams.
However, Adams is concerned about how few people seem to comprehend the limits of the technology in the vehicles they're driving.
He said there are no fully autonomous vehicles on the market. He said even with driver assistance technology, people need to pay attention while driving.
"Modern vehicles are equipped with a lot of new technology that you need to understand," he said.
Roy Tarcea sees the confusion regularly. He's a technical trainer with Belron Canada, the parent company for Speedy Glass and Apple Auto Glass.
When a windshield needs to be replaced, the forward facing camera in or near the rearview mirror needs to be recalibrated so some of the driver assistance features will operate properly. Tarcea and his team do all of that work.
"Many times we have to actually educate our customers on how the system works and how to set some of the values, distance values for the autonomous braking," he said.
"They're just not aware of it, or how to work it. I mean it's a learning process for everyone. Every vehicle is slightly different than the next one as far as how the systems are set up."
He said people should educate themselves about these safety features so they know exactly how to operate the systems and what they can and can't do.
For instance, some driver assistance features don't work in snow, ice or heavy rainy, according to Ross McKenzie, the managing director of the University of Waterloo's Centre for Automotive Research.
Most of the features are intended for use in ideal conditions, he said.
The CAA says people should ask their dealership to explain what the driver assist features when they purchase a vehicle.
The Automobile Protection Association says that some car dealerships are even inviting people back after they've had a new vehicle for a while to help walk owners through the various safety features of their vehicle.
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