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Interview: Chris Mason, Chief Executive, FISITA

Chris Mason, Chief Executive of FISITA, the International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies, talks exclusively to Megatrends magazine about the future of automotive safety and how semi- and fully-autonomous drive technology can help in the battle against road traffic-related injuries and fatalities. By Martin Kahl

No matter how far automotive technology advances, the fact remains that over 1 million people die each year in vehicle-related deaths. To what extent is this the automotive industry’s problem to solve?

Chris Mason, FISITA
Chris Mason, Chief Executive, FISITA

Road safety is a major global issue, and fatalities need to be reduced. However, this is not an issue that vehicle manufacturers alone should be expected to solve. Safety is a shared responsibility, which is why FISITA supports the work of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration.

The international motor industry has invested significantly in safety technology over the last few decades – both in terms of pedestrian detection and driver-based safety technologies. These types of technology are helping make great strides in reducing incidents, especially as many of the features that were previously the preserve of high-end vehicles become more mainstream. You only have to jump into a middle-of-the-road hatchback and find it now comes with an impressive array of safety features such as airbags, ESP, ABS, seat belt reminder and collision-assist as standard.

According to the data released by OEMs and suppliers operating autonomous car tests on public roads, human error caused all of the collisions involving autonomous cars. What does this say about the need to take responsibility for driving away from humans?

In a world where cars are increasingly capable of talking to each other and the world around them, it is clear that as we move forward, more road traffic incidents will be avoided. People will get more and more used to having these technologies on-board and the way they behave and interact with them will change. At the moment we are not in a position where cars can be without a driver for various reasons including regulatory, liability and of course consumer acceptance. My sense is that differing levels of autonomous support will begin to address these matters over the coming years, but full autonomy is still a while away.

Autonomous car technology is being pitched variously as a comfort feature and as a safety feature. What is your view?

For the consumer, knowing that the car will contribute increasingly towards a less stressful and safer journey has to be a good thing. However, as every motorist has differing needs and perceptions of autonomous driving, it is clear that we will see the continued introduction of various driver support technologies which will familiarise us and ensure a graduated acceptance ahead of full-autonomy.

Various OEMs have said they’ll have autonomous cars ready by or in 2020. What is your view on when such vehicles will be available?

Technology is moving at an unprecedented rate, and one that no-one could have predicted only a few years ago, when the thought of fully-autonomous vehicles on our roads seemed a very long way off. Now, this seems increasingly feasible. Today, manufacturers are selling semi-autonomous technologies, with new technology introductions happening as a matter of course as the building blocks for future autonomous vehicles, whilst already testing fully-autonomous vehicles on the road. With this said, my technological evaluation for 2020 is yes, but there are other non-technological factors to consider which may slow the pace of delivery against such an aspiration.

We’ve seen that the technology can drive better than humans. But how safe is it to leave the responsibility for driving on public roads to technology which can be hacked?

As more and more cars become connected, cyber security becomes an ever greater issue. As with any industry, technology issues are followed by technological advancements which combat these problems. Manufacturers view safety and security as paramount, and are investing significantly to ensure the security of their vehicles. They will continue to design vehicles with ever more enhanced security and continue to invest in combating these cyber security threats.

Can autonomous cars safely share the roads with human drivers?

Yes, they can! It is an exciting prospect to see a world in which autonomous vehicles are improving people’s lives and helping tackle some of its most significant social challenges.

This article appeared in the Q4 2015 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.

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